Italian brothers Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo make movies about men in isolation, those living on the fringes of society. In a way, their latest feature “America Latina” holds much in common with their 2020 film “Bad Tales,” a Silver Bear winner for Best Screenplay; both stories about living in the suburbs and the horror that can come from separating from society. However, it’s hard for “America Latina” to really feel like a horror film with a plot riddled with clichéd and ill-defined characters. Add in a title that doesn’t make much sense and you have a feature that’s strictly watchable in the moment alone.
Massimo Sisti (Elio Germano) is a high-powered dentist who lives in a massive and architecturally unique house in the small Roman suburb of Latina. He appears to spend his days doing little more than working and spending time with his beautiful wife and two equally beautiful daughters. He gets a shock, though, when he goes down to his basement and discovers a woman bound and gagged. The floor is riddled with bags of food, indicating she’s been there for awhile, but how did she get there?
Anytime someone stumbles upon a woman being held captive in their house, there are only a few places the plot can go from there and almost immediately “America Latina” paints itself into a corner. Massimo is shocked by the discovery, but he makes no effort to let the girl go. Instead, he becomes a quasi-detective, suspecting everybody around him — including his only friend Simone (Maurizio Lastrico), his abusive father (Fillipo Dini), and his wife Alessandra (Astrid Casali).
This territory is well-worn and almost immediately the twist reveals itself and with that the movie often fails to sustain momentum. Massimo, as a character, doesn’t have any inner thoughts and a lot of that is a victim of the third act reveal. Everything we know about him is surface. He works, he spends his evenings drinking with Simone (maybe to excess?), he enjoys making out with his wife, and he has a bad relationship with his dad.
Does this give us clues to Massimo’s psychology? Kinda. Massimo wonders if his lack of short-term memory might give clues to the girl in his basement, but the lack of any interrogation of himself, again, makes the twist glaringly apparent, so much so that even naming influences for this film would give the game away.
Germano carries “America Latina” and does a fine job of it. He’s mostly stuck to ask questions, or respond to them. There’s little depth or chemistry to his interactions with anybody, yet Germano at least tries to infuse emotion into them. The rest of the cast dances around him, with Lastrico’s Simone displaying nothing that approaches a character. Massimo’s wife and daughter are white-clad ethereal angels who seemingly travel in a group and do little more than giggle and act mysterious. Just describing them feels like a spoiler but the feature hides everything with the skill of putting a piece a paper in front of a Mack truck.
At no point, though, do we see Massimo attempt to bond with the woman in his basement, known only as “bambina” (Sara Ciocca). Considering his shock and horror at her plight, he never sits down with her or tries to learn anything about her. Really, the movie doesn’t seem to care either. The unnamed woman is a pawn in this movie, with a ticking clock — in the form of a flooding basement — acting as some form of suspense within the third act. By the time the final image comes around it’s the worst kept secret in a film that truly seems to think it had gotten away with it.
If you’re wondering where the title “America Latina” comes from it’s never explicitly stated, though interviews with the D’Innocenzos have mentioned the small suburb of Latina outside of Rome. The rest remains a mystery.
“America Latina” is brief 90-minutes of blatant boredom. The twist is so easily figured out but the feature doesn’t think the audience has guessed it at all. Despite Germano’s valiant attempts to hold this movie together, it becomes silly watching him attempt to get at the heart of a mystery that is anything but.
“America Latina” world premiered at the Venice Film Festival and is set for a theatrical release from Vision Distribution in November.
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