In Americano Martin (Mathieu Demy) is a real-estate broker in his thirties living with his girlfriend Claire (Chiara Mastroianni) in Paris. Claire wants to start a family, but Martin can’t seem to commit. When news arrives from the United States that his estranged mother is dead, Martin sets off with dual passports in hand to tie up the loose ends of a rocky maternal relationship he hasn’t addressed since his childhood, when he returned to France with his father in the wake of his parents’ divorce in California.
Arriving in Los Angeles, Martin is greeted by his mother’s best friend Linda (Geraldine Chaplin), who helps him navigate his inheritance and close up his mother’s affairs in Venice. He finds himself immersed in uncomfortable memories from the past— in the form of real-life footage culled from veteran French filmmaker’s Agnès Varda’s actual 1981 film DOCUMENTEUR, in which Varda’s son Mathieu Demy appeared as a child.
Martin combs Los Angeles for his mother’s mysterious friend and companion, Lola, finding no trace of her. Traumatized at the sight of his mother’s body in the morgue, he steals Linda’s convertible and drives to Tijuana in search of Lola, thinking she should inherit his mother’s apartment. He finds Lola in a seedy strip club named Americano.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you come up with the idea of making Americano?
Mathieu Demy: First I had the idea to make a road movie about Greece. I always wanting to direct a film for many years and even when I was acting I was interested in directing. Although I still love acting very much I found it’s a step I have to take at some point. Second, it was the idea that I should talk a little bit more precisely about my cultural background and my childhood. First features often tell a little bit about where you come from: I come from this family of filmmakers so I decided to incorporate the pieces of the film by my mother and try to make the film more personal, try to make this universal subject of grief more specific to me and more personal to my own history. So when these two things came together we had the project ready.
BT: You wrote this story yourself. What was the process of writing the story? Was the story developed during shooting?
MD: I guess it was pretty much scripted. I started to shoot in 2008 in order to find money: it was like a little teaser that we shot in Mexico with a very light crew during the Day of the Dead in November. Then the process of writing and rewriting and trying to find money lasted for 3 or 4 years and I finally incorporated that shooting into the film –the scene in the cemetery at the end, so some of those shots at the end of the film were shot in 2008. Besides those pieces, what we shot in 2011 was scripted already. Some changes occurred during the editing like most of the time I presume, but things were pretty much like they were when we started. There was a very small crew and I was doing everything on the sound, I was very close to the people that I worked with so there was this feeling that we were living the adventure like Martin.
BT: You are using the language of cinema very nicely and it is a very visual film, how much of that is the effect of having parents like Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda?
MD: I don’t know how to answer; I guess it is more the effect of really loving movies and wanting to respect the movie language. It was important to me to try and make the film look beautiful, to try to make it faithful to the point of view of Martin and to try to stick to the visuals and the narrative rules that came through the story. It is also a road movie and road movies are often slow paced and intimate so I felt that it was very important that you see beautiful and meaningful images and try to work well on the aesthetic because there is nothing worse than being bored with an ugly movie. I accept being slightly bored with beautiful images and things that excite my imagination, because then it is another way of interacting with the audience.
BT: You deal with the issue of desperately being in love very nicely; the movie does not turne into a melodrama and in fact maintains its great sense of humor. There is always a risk when a filmmaker is playing a lead part in a movie but you played the part of Martin without interrupting the directing flow. How did you manage to do that?
MD: I guess at one point those characters, Martin and myself as the director, just melted into one same tired person and it was exhausting. I thought that we were portraying this man that was very close to me so it made sense to just do it this way. I would never leave my costume even when I was directing because I happened to be in the next scene or something so it was pretty easy to keep it tight and stay focused on what the character wants, because he never left me during the shoot; but it was definitely challenging to do both and the challenging part was to be able to focus as a director again when you jump out of character and try to force yourself to look at yourself. The DP, the script girl and I would talk and they tried to help me focus on the acting as well.
BT: How did you go about working with the actors: was it straight from the script or did you allow improvisation?
MD: We did not really rehearse except with Salma, because she is in the most challenging scene of the film. There is a shot that is almost ten minutes long where she has to sing and strip and act which is really very challenging for an actor and for the whole crew… so we did rehearse for that, but on the other sequences we did not rehearse. I had Salma on my mind when I was writing and I had Chiara also in mind and I met Géraldine later. But I feel very lucky that these three wonderful women accepted to be in the film because they had to embody something about the three countries that are visited during the film. Basically he is running away from his home so Chiara Mastroianni represents something in French art-house cinema and is really someone that I truly admire –I think we have a lot in common of course with our parents history. Then Geraldine is really the link between the United States and Europe with her filmography and she added this wonderful sense of humor to the character of Linda and Salma really brings the idea of being far away from home, far away from French art house cinema; so I wanted to use that and I felt very lucky that she accepted this role and beyond her beauty and magnetic performance she is such a great actress, so I feel very lucky about the cast.
BT: How did you go about balancing all of the layers in the film?
MD: I guess it is a lot of questions during the writing and the filming and the editing. This balance works differently for every audience, so I have to try and trust myself and the fact that people will respond differently to your work. What I really try to do is just make the story as universal as possible wanting to tell a simple tale: it is a simple tale about a man who loses his mother and wanders on the track of a Tijuana stripper, it is simple and some people can relate to that or understand the process. On the other hand, I tried to fill that in with references, and winks and quotes of cinema in general and my parents’ work in particular. I guess you don’t need these references to enter in the film but they do add another layer to make the film more interesting, so I do try to set the film on both levels and I assume that very different kinds of audiences can find it interesting… I hope so!
BT: Any new Projects lined up?
MD: I am excited about a project which is still in the early stage but I am quite excited to start working again as an actor. I am also starting to work on a new script but it is going to take some more time.