Gianni Amelio’s 1994 film “L’America” (“Almost like America”) is a provocative and profoundly poignant story that depicts how the oppressed and marginalized people of a certain society appear to be stuck in their lot as their fortunes do not change amidst the seeming chaos brought about by changes in the political climate. The setting is Eastern Europe in 1991. Albania had just been freed from communist rule after nearly 50 years of it plus the fact it had been isolated from the rest of the world during the regime of Enver Hoxha.
Two Italian businessmen, Gino (Enrico Lo Verso) and Fiore (Michele Placido), plan to start a bogus business that will allow them to profit amidst Albania’s economic mess with the help of a corrupt Albanian government official who would help them. In keeping with the law of having a local as a partner, Fiore has discovered Spiro (Carmelo di Mazzarelli), a passive, senile old man who would serve their purpose by acting as the “dummy. ” Gino was entrusted in looking after Spiro and at one point, the latter ran away and Gino searched for him.
Along the way, he was waylaid and stripped of his belongings and as a result, became a refugee like Spiro whom he later discovered to be an Italian named Michele. Together, they journeyed the desolate countryside of Albania; throughout the journey, Gino began to know what it was like to be a refugee after losing most of his possessions. Gino later discovered that his older partner Fiore, abandoned him when their business plan fell through. For colluding with a corrupt official, Gino was put in prison.
He bribed his way out of jail and managed to get on a ship called the “Partizani” and it was here that he is reunited with Michele who happened to be on board as well as they sailed for Italy, ending the story. If there is one theme that appears to be prevalent throughout the film, it is exploitation and misery, the dark side of humanity, the relationship between victims and the victimizers who are driven be greed. It also shows the effects of having nothing has on the Albanians as most forget being human and are practically reduced to behaving like animals. As mentioned before, Gino and Fiore came to Albania to get rich.
They plan to take advantage of the chaos raging to make a profit, knowing that they would be “safe” so as long as there is instability. They did not care much about the Albanians and regard them as disposable “pawns” to serve their purspose. Spiro/Michele is one such “pawn” they wanted to use for that reason. Since Spiro/Michele is the “dummy,” he would cover their anomalies and should their business fall through, Spiro/Michele would be the one to pay for their crimes while they get away. Later on, Gino came to later realize what it was like to be used when Fiore left him to his own devices upon arriving in Tirana.
He was expecting him to help him after what he had been through but instead of helping him, he abandoned him, a sign that he was also using Gino and when his usefulness was over, he left him, just as what they intended to do with Spiro/Michele (Amelio, 1994). The other half of the theme showed what it was like to be a victim through the eyes of Gino. When he was divested of his possessions by the locals while searching for Spiro/Michele, he realized what was the consequence of depriving these people of their property as their dignity was stripped as well and was forced therefore to live under the same appalling conditions as these people.
It was here that he was fully exposed to the chaos that came with the fall of communism. He, along with Spiro/Michele, began to be like the refugees as they tried to make their way back to Tirane and then to Italy. People with no hope, or are deprived of it, would forget being human and would start behaving like animals as it became “every man for himself,” as characterized by the apathy and indifference of everybody, such as one scene where Gino and Spiro/Michele were on a truck with other refugees and one of the passengers was already dead yet no one seemed to care, and the dead man’s belonging were divested as well (Amelio, 1994).
In terms of technique or style, the meaning of the film is worth noting. The start of the film showed a documentary film clip of Italy occupying Albania in 1939 as part of its territorial expansion. Moving to the present, Gino and Fiore are “repeating history” by invading Albania and exploiting its people (Referential). Meaning is also manifested again at the end of the film as Gino and Spiro/Michele boarded a ship named “Partizani. ” In a strange twist of fate, the two are on a ship named after the Albanian resistance movement against the Italians, along with other Albanian refugees, making their way to Italy (Amelio, 1994).
Finally, there is one other theme (hope) Amelio wanted to underscore in the film. Despite the misery and hardships, not everyone is despondent or has lost hope and the dreams and aspirations they have are the only things that keep them from going over the edge. This has been demonstrated by Spiro/Michele, despite being in prison for a long time due to his participation in the Italian occupation of Albania, never lost hope that he would see his wife again despite suffering from delusions. No one can deny that this is what kept him from being totally miserable and something Gino learned in his humbling journey in life.
As for the title of the film, the conditions the refugees have gone through closely mirror that of European immigrants going to America. Like the present-day refugees, they also endured similar hardships and it was their hopes and dreams that drove them to escape it, hence the title though “America” for the Albanians is Italy. The film has done justice by providing balance that in the midst of misery, hope lingers on, and that it is never far away. Reference Amelio, G. (Director). (1994). L’America [Motion Picture]. Italy. Cecci Gori Group.
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