by Hope Madden
Like some sort of bourgeoise, European Napoleon Dynamite, the diabolically deadpan Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) is a weird, mesmerizing mess (the character, not the film). Writer/director Carolina Cavalli’s feature debut delivers on the weird and mesmerizing, but the vision is intentional and its delivery confident.
The titular character, a 25-year-old with no friends or job who rails against nonexistent oppressors while sponging off her parents, is as off-putting as any narcissist would be. At the same time, thanks to Cavalli’s witty script and Porcaroli’s surprising wealth of vulnerability, you can’t help but root for Amanda.
Her only friend is the family’s middle-aged maid who doesn’t mind so much, but she’d rather spend time with her own kids than get dragged to another rave. Afraid she’s a loser, will always be a loser, Amanda decides to become besties with Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi), the daughter of a family friend. This is not something Rebecca will accept voluntarily.
Cavalli’s fills dining rooms, bedrooms, gravel paths and cinemas with a dark whimsy that’s hard to pull off. Her film borders on the absurd but never fully crosses over – kind of a Yorgos Lanthimos (particularly Dogtooth), but with more heart and less devastating cynicism.
Amanda is the embodiment of a generation of lonely people unable to form human connection, but her charm is her sincere desire to find that one person who connects with her – regardless of her profound selfishness, interest in nothing, and desire to do nothing except save up enough supermarket store points to win an electric fan.
Cavalli populates Amanda’s world with a few equally odd characters. Rebecca’s self-imposed isolation becomes a fascinating counterpoint to Amanda’s involuntary version. Giovanna Mezzogiorno, playing Rebecca’s mother, offers a liltingly bizarre turn.
Margherita Missoni is a delight playing Amanda’s pharmacist sister, a woman so weary of Amanda’s irresponsible divadom that she appears to melt.
It’s a perversely lovely, lonely world. Cavalli lenses an environment simultaneously elegant and bucolic, a kind of fairy tale where nobody’s feeling very optimistic of a happy ending but are unready to embrace reality quite yet. It leaves a little room for hope.