THE STORY – A writer loses her memory in New York City, attempting to find her way home, she connects with a group of strangers in conversations, real and imagined.
THE CAST – Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, Annika Wahlsten, Annabel Hoffman & Maya Hawke
THE TEAM – Adam Leon (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 81 Minutes
By Dan Bayer
A woman asks another for a cigarette. After giving her one, the other woman asks the first if she remembers her. She can’t place her, nor does she remember the man that supposedly introduced them. The woman wanders the streets of New York, looking for a person, or a place, or a thing, but she isn’t sure what. She doesn’t remember who she is or what she’s doing. She hangs out with and talks with some teenagers, but still…nothing. That sums up Adam Leon’s “Italian Studies,” an indulgent, dreamy doodle of a film that chases its own tail for most of its 80 minutes before deciding to wrap itself up in a neat little bow and end.
“Italian Studies” would be almost entirely devoid of interest were it not for the fact that one Vanessa Kirby plays the woman in question. Quickly establishing herself as one of the most interesting actresses of her generation, Kirby has used the launchpad of her award-winning role on “The Crown” and blockbuster bit part in the most recent “Mission: Impossible” film to work with lesser-known directors in parts that interest her, most notably in last year’s “Pieces of a Woman,” for which she received much acclaim including an Oscar nomination. It’s easy to see this as a companion piece to “Pieces of a Woman,” focusing as it does on one woman’s nearly-indescribable internal journey. Kirby has one of the most compelling faces in film, and Leon uses it beautifully, carefully choosing the moments when we are let into her inner life.
Unfortunately, the character’s inner life ends up being far less attractive than Leon and Kirby seem to think. A young woman recognizes her, causing her to believe she is an author of some renown, and she interviews the teens she seeks out and hangs with as inspiration for her next book. Or maybe those conversations are mostly imagined. The slippery nature of reality and identity for an author who pours themselves into their characters could be fertile ground for an enigmatic film in the vein of “Last Year at Marienbad.” Still, Leon doesn’t go deep into these themes, preferring to stay on the surface and just watch Kirby interact with the teenagers of Manhattan and occasionally get a lost look in her eyes as she tries to figure out who she is and what she’s doing.
Thankfully, cinematographer Brett Jutkiewicz has conjured up some dreamy-looking nighttime cinematography, using the streetlights and occasional neon and fluorescent storefronts of NYC to create a swirling mass of color around Kirby. The film looks great and gets by for quite a while on that and Kirby’s compelling presence alone. But eventually, it has to end, and Leon ends the film in the most uninteresting way possible, over-explaining what came before in a kind of epilogue that makes it feel like the very few bits of interest scattered throughout ended up amounting to nothing. There’s a fascinating enigma of a film at the heart of “Italian Studies,” but that’s about all there is, and when it doesn’t even have the heart to lean all the way in to that enigma, you can’t help but ask yourself as the credits roll: “Why?”
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Some beautiful nighttime cinematography on the streets of NYC make the ever-compelling Vanessa Kirby even easier to look at.
THE BAD – It never really does much of interest nor leads to a compelling ending.