The Movie Waffler Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review - ITALIAN STUDIES | The Movie Waffler

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Tribeca Film Festival 2021 Review - ITALIAN STUDIES

italian studies review
Stricken by sudden amnesia, a woman wanders the streets of New York City.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Adam Leon

Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Simon Brickner, Annabel Hoffman, Maya Hawke


When a major star tells you they wish to work with you but they have a limited opportunity in which to do so, you had better come up with an idea quickly.

That's the situation director Adam Leon faced when Vanessa Kirby expressed a desire to collaborate, having been impressed by his features Gimme the Loot and Tramps. With Kirby only available for a brief period in between projects, Leon devised Italian Studies, a movie that unfortunately feels like it was rushed into production half-formed. That said, there's enough of interest here to make it a worthwhile watch for fans of the rising British star.

Kirby plays Alina Reynolds, a writer whom we meet attending a session at her husband's London recording studio. When she bums a cigarette off a young American girl (Annabel Hoffman) in attendance, the girl asks "Don’t you remember me?", but Reynolds has no recollection of an apparent prior encounter in New York. Then something snaps in her brain. "Was this when I lost my dog?"


We then cut to the Big Apple, where Reynolds is browsing a hardware store when she suddenly succumbs to a bout of amnesia. Leaving her dog chained outside the store, Reynolds wanders the streets of the city, piecing together fragments of her memory.

And that's largely it. Watching Kirby - a major star, yet still able to disappear in a crowd without recognition - blend into NYC's throng of tourists and locals isn't unlike Scarlett Johansson's similar Glaswegian adventures in Under the Skin. Kirby's amnesia victim is similarly alien (she's an alien, she's an Englishwoman in New York) in the sense that her surroundings are suddenly new and unfamiliar, and she's almost forgotten how to be human.

italian studies review

The latter manifests in her defying "social norms", as it's put by Simon (Simon Brickner), the likeable teenage dork she befriends along the way. Reynolds, who initially seems quite prim and proper, resorts to petty theft and gets into Larry David-esque arguments with disgruntled busybodies. With her filter erased along with her memory, she has no problem telling someone to "go fuck yourself" when she finds herself incapable of continuing a reasonable debate.

A chance encounter with a young bookworm reveals that Reynolds is an admired author of short stories. In a scene that every writer will envy, Reynolds visits a library and reads one of her own books, essentially through someone else's objective eyes. Luckily for her, she's impressed with what she reads.


Reynolds is taken in by Simon's friendly group of teenage friends. They may dress like the sociopaths of Larry Clark's Kids - all baggy skateboard attire, though with no sign of any skateboards - but they couldn't be more affable. Even when Reynolds confesses to having no money on her person, the kids scrape together enough to pay for her dinner without question.

Reynolds' street adventures are inter-cut with video footage of the teens in question being interrogated on a variety of subjects by their new British buddy. It's unclear whether the young actors are answering in character or as themselves, but it certainly feels like the latter as they reveal their worries about encroaching adulthood.

Italian Studies never quite coalesces into a satisfying narrative. If it initially teases a gender reversal of Lost in Translation with a teenage boy acting as a tour guide for an older visitor to an unfamiliar city, that plotline ultimately never quite materialises. That's a shame, as Kirby and newcomer Brickner have a genuinely endearing chemistry. With his toothy grin and charming line in pseudo-philosophising, Brickner enlivens the film every time he makes an all too brief interjection, correcting the course of a film that, like its dizzy protagonist, roams the streets of NYC in search of an identity.

Italian Studies played at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Release details have yet to be announced.

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