Tribeca 2021 Film Festival Review: Italian Studies

Written by Taylor Baker


“Does memory even matter?”

An impulsive saturnine film that follows Vanessa Kirby as she billows around New York City for an unclear amount of time in an amnesiac fugue state. The non-linear timeline of the film accentuates the haziness Kirby’s performance indicates. At one point Kirby appears to be a prisoner, as she lies horizontally on the landing between two stories fast asleep while the rising sun casts shadows of the railing on her form. This exudes a feeling of being trapped not just in place but in or perhaps outside of time, maybe even outside of one’s self.

The documentary-like cinematography is made up mostly of street level footage, shooting alongside jewelers, graffiti strewn garage doors, unloading trucks, and bodega’s. The interview styling of Kirby out of frame as she asks leading questions to various persons, invites a direct correlation to a more formal documentary style. Albeit from an inquisitor that is lost but enticed by the veracity of life. The above mentioned street cinematography is reminiscent of a Safdie Brothers picture, or Leon’s previous film, Tramps. It’s a film experience, where the emotion of the viewer will take precedence to any mind oriented observation.

There’s been some mention made and for good reason of the similarities between Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Glazer’s film Under the Skin and Italian Studies. It’s unclear if the events of the film are in part a day dream playing out in Kirby’s character Alina’s head where her novel’s characters are speaking to her or a more straightforward temporary loss. The woozy nature of the structure and tone make it difficult to even assert with certainty that Kirby’s name in the film is even Alina. But it’s not without its charm, debating the merit of an all bread sandwich, and how to best wet down a couple of dry hot dogs. I think viewers will come out of their viewings with mixed feelings, to quote the terminology of one of our characters some will find it “Warm World” and some “Cold World”. I’m warm.

Italian Studies was screened as part of the Tribeca 2021 Film Festival. It will release in theaters and on VOD January 14, 2022.

You can check out Taylor’s Ranked List of the Tribeca Film Festival on Letterboxd

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