Inside the Beast's Cage: Gianni Amelio's Lamerica and the Dilemmas of Post-1989 Leftist Cinema

Article excerpt

With Gianni Amelio's Lamerica, we investigate the identity crisis of cinema engage in post-1989 Europe. We reflect on issues of cinematic realism, on the relationship between film and other audiovisual media, and on the condition of the migrant Eastern European worker. We inquire about cinema's progressive potential, about its power to represent the underrepresented, and we link these issues of cinematic representation to broader challenges facing the European Left in the age of global capitalism.

KEYWORDS Gianni Amelio, Italian cinema, neorealism, film and history, film theory, leftist cinema

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The initial sequence of Gianni Amelio's Lamerica (1) calls attention to the film's profound awareness of its historicity, the context within which it is produced, and the realities with which it dialogues. In the tradition of Italian postwar leftist cinema, film is discourse in and of history, and Lamerica announces itself as a response to the radical changes Europe went through in the wake of 1989: the fall of state communism, the opening of borders between Eastern and Western Europe, the triumph of liberal capitalism, and the emergence of a new subject in the European political landscape--the Eastern European migrant worker. The viewer is invited to transport herself to a tumultuous time-space: 1991; Durres, Albania. 1989 has left clear historical traces. Two countries, Italy and Albania, previously hermetically separated from each other, are now in contact. The fall of the Iron Curtain has opened borders, and the landscape is bustling with bodies in motion. An old world order is collapsing; a new one is coming into being. Columns of men and women are on the move, history itself seems to be on the move, and Lamerica's camera is there to document this turning point.

The film's first shot, a crane shot, lasts approximately one minute. It starts with a view of an Albanian crowd struggling to enter the port of Durres and embarking on a ship to Italy. The camera singles out one body and follows it. It cranes, unedited, over the port's fence, as our character walks through the gate. He is an Albanian official welcoming two Italian businessmen who, we soon find out, intend to open a ghost company in Albania in order to benefit from government incentives. Two cultures interact; exchange values, bodies. The continuity of this shot suggests that post-1989 Europe needs to be understood as a locus of such exchanges. We are in a port, the metonymic stand-in for an otherwise aquatic border. Its gates open to the ethnically hybrid and ideologically less polarized space of a "New Europe." The camera's uninterrupted craning over the gate seems to suggest the overcoming of pre-1989 edits imposed upon the continent's geography. Territories on both sides of the Iron Curtain can now be explored in an uninterrupted movement, and cultures on both sides of the divide can work toward acquiring new, unedited habits of looking at each other, dollying through or craning over prejudices.

The political transformations of 1989 turned enemies into cohabitants, and foreigners into neighbors. Lamerica invites its viewers, facing both the cinematic screen and post-1989 history, to live up to the challenges produced by these new encounters and respond to them ethically. This is especially the case since, once borders were crossed and former ideological differences faded away, prejudice reemerged, this time along facial and class lines. Old stereotypes of the Eastern European other were replaced by new ones. But Lamerica's camera, which once could only peek over the border, now conveys a message of hope. h can actually enter the alien territory, shoot on location and come close to its neighboring other. (2)

The two Italian entrepreneurs welcomed by the Albanian official are Fiore and his assistant, Gino. After the craning shot that opens the film, we see the Albanian official climbing into the Italians' stylish--to Albanian eyes--jeep, and our exploration of Albanian territory begins. …