It feels like there’s a bit of explanation that needs to take place about Lamerica and its addition to the List before I delve into the film, for those who may have missed the discussions on Letterboxd or Reddit or the like. It is indeed strange when a film is added to the Book that is several years preceding the most recent year and its additions, and the person who found this in the new version surmised that the editors had corrected a film being in the incorrect year, and thus were left with an empty slot in the book’s formatting, which instead of reformatting the entire book after that slot to fill in the gap, they just decided to fill it with another film from that year. I’m inclined to believe this is exactly what happened, and perhaps Lamerica was on the shortlist of films that got cut in the narrowing of said list to the initial 1,001 that they decided to re-insert. Either way, the question now is: is Lamerica a good enough film to warrant this inclusion, especially under these strange circumstances? To that, I can only say: I get why the editors may have selected this to fill in their blank space, but I also get why this didn’t make the List to begin with.
The film starts out with Gino and Fiore, two Italians who travel to Albania to ostensibly set up a shoe company to benefit the local population. It becomes apparent soon enough that they are really just trying to scam the government incentives towards Albania, and they reach a hiccup when they need an Albanian local to be the head of their “company”. They manage to find one man, an old political prisoner who gives his name as Spiro, and Gino is tasked with getting the man to the Italian Embassy to sign off on their company, and the scheme as well. Of course, the trip to the embassy is not a forthright one, and Spiro is not the empty-headed Albanian they think he is, and soon Gino is forced into a pseudo-road trip/buddy movie situation where he comes to a better understanding of Spiro’s history, and that of the local Albanians as well. Normally, I’d try to go into depth with various factors of the film I found either above or below average, but with Lamerica, it all kind of smears together, to where if asked about one particular feature of the filmmaking process, one is hard-pressed to discern if Lamerica’s effort in that regard is good, bad, or even something worth picking out. It’s basically Italian neo-realism, but made and set fifty years after said movement had its heyday with cinema, and as such, it becomes hard to talk about. What I can talk about, which I took note of early on and was basically the one feature that did stick out, was the setting; the film is awash with the depth and extent of Albania’s poverty circa the fall of communism in the country, so much so that it becomes impossible to ignore (which I suspect is exactly what the film wants). Every shot of Gino and/or Spiro traveling anywhere is accompanied by groups of children swarming either their vehicle or the men themselves, tugging at their arms with their hands out, begging for money, or outright stealing things from them like their shoes or even the tires on their car. I picked up on this basically for lack of anything else to pick up on (and also for how overwhelming it was in every scene); the story of the men’s journey or Spiro’s past is really ancillary to the setting everything takes place in, and director Gianni Amelio seems way less concerned with having an actual narrative than he is simply opening a window to this area of the world in this time in its history. One other thing I liked was the newsreel-style intro over the opening credits, which gave some political context to the setting and the story that would’ve otherwise been missing for a foreign viewer like myself. Quite a few times I’ve mentioned having little personal context to a foreign film’s situation, so that was a nice little addition the film otherwise didn’t need to have.
The ultimate statement I have about Lamerica should be fairly easy to extrapolate, especially from the second paragraph, and it deals with the film’s overall aimlessness in both the story it tells and how the film ends up finishing it. Like, I got what the film was showing me with all the desperation and chaos in Albania, and how downtrodden the people there have been; what I didn’t get was the point or message behind why the film was showing this to me. Was it a commentary on how Italy has basically destroyed this country and left it to decompose on its own? Is it a cry to Italians to do something to ease the suffering of Albanian immigrants? I really have no idea, and that I’m left wondering, more than anything, is itself what I took from Lamerica the most. As an exploration of a period of history in a specific area of the world, Lamerica works; I had basically no knowledge of the Albanian exodus in the wake of communism’s fall, and now I at least have some idea. But was such a specific thing to cover really worth an addition to the List, especially with the other films from 1994 that could’ve seen an entry instead? My answer is basically no, though that’s not to discourage what Lamerica is or does; I just didn’t see why I had to go out of my way to see it.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10