We have a tradition in my country. It’s to make shitty movies about other countries.
READER SURVEY: What are the top 3 movies in your opinion that present the most authentic vision of another country or culture by a foreign (ie, not of that culture) director? I’ll start with mine:
1) Soy Cuba (Cuba) – Dir. by Mikhail Kalatozov, a Russian
2) Brokeback Mountain (United States) – Dir. by Ang Lee, a Taiwanese
3) The Last Emperor (China) – Dir. by Bernardo Bertolucci, an Italian
4) Anything except this horrible film I am about to review.
It all happened because I found a positive rating on rottentomatoes.com, and because the trailer didn’t look so bad, and because the video store is half a block away from my apartment, and because because because I’d do anything to procrastinate from finishing this musical I’m supposed to be finishing for Minneapolis, I foolishly, oh so foolishly spent $2.71 and 2 hours of my life watching a movie starring Joshua Jackson, Leonor Varela, and Dennis Hopper as the zany over-the-hill, cigar-smoking, midget-torturing expat bar owner, titled “Americano”. I only tell you the name so that if it comes up in party conversation, you can immediately and irrevocably judge the person who spent money on it (even $2.71) and throw your drink in their face with every right afforded you as a sentient human being.
I hoped this film might evoke some of those ephemeral emotions from my eight months in Spain, living on the flip-side of a culture, the frustration, confusion, the celebration, and the victories of living abroad. However, my memory must be foggy, because I don’t remember the Spain of my experience peopled with such horribly cardboard cutout “characters”, Spanish women taking off their tops at the mere sight of a body of water, or anyone resembling Dennis Hopper (actually, that’s not true).
“Americano” purports to tell the tale of an American college grad backpacking in Spain three days before returning to the USA to begin his corporate death, set against the backdrop of la Fiesta de San Fermin, where the famous running of the bulls (and many other varieties of idiocy) takes place.
Joshua Jackson’s bearded protagonist (strangely conjuring Ewan McGregor playing Obi-Wan Kenobi) is struggling with the meaning of his life, and he has come to Pamplona to drink wine, pour dripping wax in his diary, and fuck Leonor Varela in order to discover it. I’ll save you 3 bucks by telling you he ends the film by ravishing Varela who, having fulfilled her purpose in life (and who spends half the film wearing flowers behind her ear(!!)), bestows upon him a new backpack and the inspiration to walk the Camino de Santiago. This would be the Spanish equivalent to sending Corky to Disneyland and making a wish come true. America!
What I wish deeply in my heart would happen would be that after Jackson leaves for his vision quest, Varela immediately leaps out of bed and goes back to the bar to collect her next American stud-in-distress. The entire film would have made delicious sense with such an alternate ending. Maybe on the next DVD.
Dispelling the understandable conclusion that Director/Writer Kevin Noland has never actually BEEN to Spain, he says during an interview on the film’s website: “[The actors] actually ran with the bulls to bring a level of reality to the picture that would allow the audience to experience the “awakening” of Chris McKinley. Joshua Jackson even slapped a charging bull as it was captured on camera. Furthermore, we enlisted a professional Spanish bullfighter to allow us to film him during an actual bullfight at the San Fermin festival. Shooting real time inside a packed arena had not been done until AMERICANO, which allowed me to provoke important discussions of cultural relativism.” Cultural relativism, alright. By the way, if you need to use Pacey’s slapping a bull’s ass during an event that kills the largest number of inebriated foreigners in Europe as proof of a personal awakening, you know you’re in trouble. Personally, I prefer the “City Slickers” version.
Some tasty dialogue samples from the film:
“The only thing you must do is what scares you.”
“Death teaches you to appreciate life.”
“These tapas kill!” “Then give them to someone who wants to die.”
“Vader, your father, he is.” (Ok, but it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.)
While I met many incredibly resonant people in Spain, none of them resembled the characters in “Americano”, constantly spouting allegorical life-affecting drivel under the influence of absinthe and seducing you after making you wash their feet in their enormous villas while purring the great American Hollywood fantasy line for a character with an accent: “We have a tradition in my village…” every 5 minutes. Unfortunately, Leonor Varela’s character has probably done more to damage the image of the Spanish woman than anything since Penelope Cruz opened her mouth in “All the Pretty Horses”.
Even more sadly, Director/Writer/Culture Pirate Noland seems content to believe all españolas are gorgeous, fiery, flirtatious, come from incredibly wealthy families whose parents aren’t home, and exist with the sole purpose to help us Norteamericanos ‘find ourselves’ in their mythically indefatigable style, constantly singing and dancing themselves into a hot frenzy while waxing metaphoric about bullfights and serving us bottomless glasses of rioja. Yes, believe it or not, he really thinks anyone besides a white-haired, chain-smoking, short-sleeve-button-down-wearing 68 year-old man would actually promote bullfighting.
Viva el estereotipo. Well done.