Venice 2021 review: America Latina (Fabio & Damiano D’Innocenzo)

“America Latina is probably best qualified as a novella thriller that you read on your holidays and then promptly forget.”

Every film festival should have a good little potboiler in its line-up. That is the main conclusion to draw after watching America Latina, the latest film by twin brothers Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo. In essence that is what America Latina boils down to, a tightly written, simple story (short story, really, stretched just beyond perfect length) that is a fun discussion item after you’ve walked out of the theater. Does it all make sense? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it is intriguing enough to stay invested until the predictable end just to see how the D’Innocenzos resolve this little whodunit, where the ‘who’ dawns quickly but the ‘why’ remains an enigma.

The ‘Latina’ part of the title comes from the region just below Rome, the home of protagonist Massimo (Elio Germano), a calm and collected dentist who diverted his income into an impressive villa amidst the marshlands of the region. With a beautiful wife (Astrid Casali) and two daughters, one a teen and the other not quite yet, his family is the center of Massimo’s universe. But that universe is shaken up when he makes a shocking discovery in the basement: a tied-up girl, battered and bruised. How did she get there? Perhaps it’s because when he removes her gag she starts screaming her lungs out, but Massimo does not immediately set her free. The question of who is behind this starts gnawing at him. At first he suspects his friend Simone (Maurizio Lastrico). A friend perhaps, but also kind of shady, right? Then suspicion falls on his dad, with whom Massimo has a very strained relationship. As Massimo’s paranoia grows out of control, the wheel of distrustfulness starts circling closer and closer around his family.

Given the structure of the film, the resolution can be seen from about half an hour in, but it is fun to see how the director duo plays with form to suggest Massimo’s mind spinning out of control, with heavy use of lighting and filtering, and unusual tilted camera angles emphasizing the protagonist’s mounting insanity. They have no qualms about essentially giving the plot away halfway through, so assured are they of the audience having fun with figuring out what the role of the kid in the basement is. That confidence isn’t unfounded, because even if by the end of the film one can argue (and the argument is part of the allure) whether the conclusion is airtight or not, being along for the ride, which includes clear Stepford Wives overtones and enough red to make Dario Argento blush, is basically the point. The premise is probably not enough to justify its runtime, as America Latina feels more like a very long short, but besides some pacing issues around Massimo’s first two contenders for the perpetrator, the film breezes along.

In no small part this is because of Elio Germano’s commanding central performance. The rest of the cast barely registers, but seeing Germano slide from confident into restless and eventually full-on paranoid can only suggest that the actor is clearly in the running for a Volpi Cup on Saturday. A perfectly modulated performance that carries the film, nay, is the film, Germano’s Massimo is an amusing everyman falling into the abyss, trying to make sense of it all. The actor’s performance holds America Latina together, as in terms of substance there is not much to chew on, so it falls to him to keep the thin story moving. In the end America Latina is probably best qualified as a novella thriller that you read on your holidays and then promptly forget, so given the weather on the Lido this week it’s a perfect fit, and being programmed in between heavy, mammoth-length films from Eastern Europe and beyond makes it stands out. Maybe a bit cooler blue color palette for the next potboiler in Berlin?