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"Americano" centers around Chris McKinley, a recent college graduate backpacking through Europe who savors his last three days of freedom before boarding the career fast track back in the United States. In Pamplona with two friends, Chris meets an Australian thrill-seeker, a quintessential Spanish beauty and an enigmatic provocateur, all of whom encourage him to rethink his life. As the minutes and seconds until his departure tick away, Chris struggles with an age-old question: Should he follow the beaten path or risk it all on the road less traveled? Written by
Solid film-making and soulful story makes for great cinematic experience
Writer/Director Kevin Noland's debut feature, Americano, starts out large and loud, with a birds-eye view of a Spanish crowd packed into a plaza like conquistadors on a gold-bound ship. It is the annual Pamplona running of the bulls festival, and the anticipation and jubilation rise on the air in a celebration of the very Spanish tradition that culminates in a series of duels between matadors and their bull partners. Americano is rife with metaphor, utilizing both Spanish festival traditions and the surrounding land and cityscapes to hammer home the theme of finding oneself at the crux of a life changing moment.
Joshua Jackson plays Chris, a twenty-something whose days at the festival are the last before returning to the States for a career in a possibly lucrative, but soul-deadening office. With his two friends Ryan (Timm Sharp) and Michelle (Ruthanna Hopper) in tow, the three are in high festival mood when Chris' backpack is stolen. Suddenly, the future looks even closer, and Chris begins having doubts about going back to the States. Here, I feel alive he writes in his journal, as he participates in the mad dash running of the bulls, escaping into the stadium where the bright sunshine overwhelms Chris in his ecstasy (no matter that the film was overexposed for that particular scene...the sentiment is there).
At a curious ex-pat bar owned and operated by an eccentric (Dennis Hopper) who shouts bizarre and cryptic sayings like "Be very wary of the con...the Ameri-con...Americano!", Chris meets the vivacious Adela (Leonor Varela), a beautiful actress who takes to his plight and invites them all to her villa, set in the wide sweeping vista of an Iberian paradise. Here Chris really takes to heart his impending future and begins to question what he wants out of life. His friends too, begin to see cracks in their own self-built wall of security, and suddenly their lives have become a bit more complicated.
If the plot sounds hazy and indistinct, that's because it is, but not to its detriment. While a bit more structure might be helpful to create a sense of the whole, Americano dwells not on the outward events, but on the inward spirit and thought of its characters. Using Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises as Chris' guidebook and the film's thematic conceit, Kevin Noland displays no urgency in presenting his vision of the anxieties and enthusiasm of young adulthood, its trials, its secrets, and its ambivalence. We aren't given easy answers, but the questions posed are introspective, to be taken in softly and quietly, with a sincerity of expectation for seeking out what's right and real and true.
In the end, Americano is a finely tuned, though technically flawed in some respects, film with fine performances from Joshua Jackson and Dennis Hopper, though the revelation is Leonor Varela, who injects her character with a sense of the sublime, an earthy angel with a taste for the dangerous and exotic, but not without a sense of home. Timm Sharp supplies some good comedic moments, and though understated and slightly old for the part, Ruthanna Hopper shows she's a capable actress. Noland's direction is subtle. The film suffers from a few technical problems, including poor ADR sync and a few scenes where footage appears overexposed. However, these should not be cause to miss a wonderful debut from an ambitious and talented writer and director.
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