1994, NR, 120 min. Directed by Gianni Amelio. Starring Enrico Lo Verso, Michele Placido, Carmelo Di Mazzarelli, Piro Milkani, Elida Janushi, Sefer Pema.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., April 12, 1996

Having come to Austin screens sporting an impressive pedigree of critical acclaim, the award-winning Lamerica certainly holds quite a bit of promise for foreign cinema buffs, and thankfully, for the most part it lives up to its stellar reputation. Gino (Lo Verso) is an ambitious young entrepreneur who has come to the impoverished countryside of Albania from his native Italy with dreams of getting rich quick, only to find his life changed forever as he becomes stripped of his material possessions and is forced to bond with the country's poor and oppressed peoples, and with one man in particular, a 70-year-old derelict named Spiro (Di Mazzarelli, who turns in a truly mesmerizing performance despite having no acting experience whatsoever). While lesser films might have used Gino as a kind of surrogate in order to keep the audience safely distanced from the onscreen events, Lamerica boldly avoids such potentially embarrassing melodramatics by, instead, using the character as a means of commenting on the increasingly materialistic nature of modern Italian society as it grows more and more infatuated with capitalism. With this in mind, Lamerica is ultimately less about the day-to-day struggles of contemporary Albanians than a critical examination of a new generation of young Italians, who have, in the eyes of co-writer-director Amelio, lost touch with their history. The fact that the film almost never needs to preach in order to get its point across is a glowing testament to the talents of Amelio -- the acclaimed Italian filmmaker also responsible for the widely praised Stolen Children and Open Doors -- who not only draws strong, natural performances from a cast made up almost entirely of non-professional performers, but also exhibits a keen eye for crafting haunting, poetic imagery. In the latter department, he is aided by the spectacular cinematography of Luca Bigazzi, who makes the most of Albania's desolate but beautiful landscape and helps Amelio to create a motion picture that is both intimate and epic. That seemingly contradictory description more or less sums up the content of Lamerica: a complex, intelligent study of cultural identity told with great dignity and humanity.

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