French Rendez-Vous: 3 – Americano

“Americano” is the feature directorial and writing debut of Mathieu Demy, son of French New Wave directors Agnes Varda and the late Jacques Demy. Mathieu, who plays the lead role, appeared in films of his mother as well as in films by other major French directors like Andre Techine. He portrays Martin, living in Paris with Claire (Chiara Mastroianni). Their relationship is conflicted. Chiara is the daughter of Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni.

When Martin’s mother dies, he visits her Los Angeles home to settle her estate. Martin had lived there in his childhood. He is reunited with Linda (Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter) a family friend. Trying to discover more about his mother, Martin tries to find Lola, a Mexican woman he knew as a child and who was close to his mother. A flashback of Martin as a child with Lola is a clip from Varda’s 1982 “Documenteur” with her son Mathieu.

Clues take him to Mexico where he finds a Lola (Salma Hayek) dancing in a seedy club called Americano. Martin’s quest is riskier than he imagined.

Demy (r) in “Americano”

Demy sustains interest in his film with continual plot twists and new revelations about Lola that add to the mystery. The cast is effective. Hayek is particularly strong as the volatile Lola.

Mathieu Demy appeared at Rendez-Vous in New York City with Chiara Mastroianni. Demy said they grew up together. Chiara joked about being trapped in a car for a scene with the eccentric actor Jean-Pierre Mocky who portrays Martin’s father.

Chiara Mastroianni

In an interview, I asked Demy the inspiration for his first feature. He replied “My inspiration was in Tangier, I was visiting Tangier and Morocco and I had this idea of a man losing himself in a foreign city where he doesn’t understand what’s going on to him and I thought to go to the road movie where you have to lose yourself to find yourself.”

Mathieu Demy

When I commented on his choice of the Los Angeles setting of his film, Demy said “It’s a French film, I have roots there, memories. It’s a city that I love. The story takes place in that city, LA, so when he escapes his responsibilities and he goes away, this is what they do in Westerns, right, they cross the border and get lost in Mexico.”

I asked what he likes about Los Angeles, he answered “I came back as an adult, living (there) a little bit. I like Los Angeles very much.  It’s the general feeling about it, the spaces, the very wide spaces. As a European citizen, it’s very, very different. I love New York too, but there is a very European taste more in New York. For someone who lives in tiny places in Paris, LA is such a strange, huge, — spread out, very interesting, and I love the beach.”

I told Demy that the parts he wrote were good fits for Salma Hayek and Geraldine Chaplin and asked if their parts were written with them in mind. Demy responded “Yea, I definitely had Salma in mind because this is a French independent film with hardly no money. And at one point, it becomes sort of a tale, and it becomes something not really realistic. So I was it was interested if Salma would jump in to a project like this and she would bring something very strange to the project and she had the guts to do that. And I’m very thankful and I think the movie really becomes something else, so yea, I had her in mind from the very beginning.

Hayek and Demy in “Americano”

“Geraldine I met her after the script was written. I had trouble to find someone who had that humor…she’s such very, very smart and very funny person so right away she immediately pointed out what was funny in their relationship and what was funny in the character and she really played that game.”

I told Demy that Chaplin’s part was a continuation of her fast-talking characters in Robert Altman films. He added “Yea, she’s a great actress and she has a strong film family history and it was also interesting to have these people. (I had) not known neither Salma nor her. They were actors who fitted the part well and would bring something because of who they are.”

I said that Hayek brought a depth and real intensity to her characterization. Demy: “I must say Salma really much helped to that because in the first draft this character was a stripper…she’s a double identity. It was a complex character who had an iconic feel about it. A little bit, too much of an iconic feeling, and she Salma brought a lot of reality of who she is, of other emotions. She did a great job with that character. I’m very thankful.” On the facial scar of Hayek’s character Demy laughed and added “She still is beautiful, huh.”

I commented about the connection that character name of Lola was also the title of his father’s 1961 film with Anouk Aimee. He replied “That’s a little wink to my own cultural background but I really tried to make a film that would be caught by different angles and you don’t need all that, but it’s another layer you could access the film by or find some more stuff.

“I’m a great fan of the Coen Brothers and I often notice that often in their films there are so many little details that make sense, that there are some films that you could see 50 times like ‘The Big Lebowski’. I’ve been seeing this film maybe 50 or 60 times. Each and every time I find another detail that leads to another thing, a little thing in the sense, or in the script in the words it’s fascinating…I love (the Coens’)’Barton Fink’, it’s an amazing film, great film because also it’s very much a metaphor of many other…creativity, metaphor of yea, just making art.”

I told Demy that the film clip of him as a child directed by his mother worked very well as a flashback for his film character. He said “That came in second place. I realized I was doing at one point a family film. It’s really about that relationship between parents and children. And the whole thing is a metaphor about me, Mathieu making a feature film with my parent directors. So I thought it would make sense to link the form to the subject by picking a film of my mother in which I am…does that make sense? Link everything in a more personal way…Ultimately this character Martin gets closer to his parents, but he also learns to grow up. This is precisely what I need to do as a director.”

When I asked if given his parentage, he had always wanted to be involved with film, he laughed and added “I didn’t have much of a choice, my mother put me in all her films when I was a kid. I’m joking, but I did have a choice. At one point, I tried some other stuff and came back as an adult to filmmaking, acting and storytelling in general, but acting in particular, it’s what I love the most.”

On directing himself as an actor “It was definitely tricky, but it was part of the project, being very much involved in every way of it. So I also produced it.”