NYC-based auteur Adam Leon brings high-profile talent and understated storytelling to Tribeca FF 2021 with Italian Studies, his third feature film. The indelible Vanessa Kirby stars as a mysterious woman who can’t recall her own identity. As she wanders the streets of Manhattan, people fade in and out of her life like dreams. Like The Father, we witness it all from her perspective, as if we are amnesiacs ourselves. An ensemble of youthful first-time actors play against Kirby with electric chemistry, leading to surprisingly tender moments. Leon’s actors are remarkably open to the camera, and his understated urban style is unparalleled—but if Italian Studies were to invite comparison, it could be kindred to Eliza Hittman’s 2020 gem Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
Perhaps you know Leon from his debut feature, Gimme the Loot, which won the SXSW Grand Jury Prize in 2012, or from his heist-romance follow-up, Tramps. The writer/director is known for channeling authentic performances and immersive, almost doc-style coverage that gives the audience the sensation of overhearing real conversations. Italian Studies is no exception: Leon, Kirby and his DP Brett Jutkiewicz explore of identity through reflection, personal and literal. Nick Britell accompanies their lens on blurred emotions with a transportive, meditative score.
How does Leon achieve something so real, yet so unreal at the same time? And why are his unorthodox storytelling strategies so spellbinding? The filmmaker once said that he made his first feature, Gimme The Loot, in hopes that it was one person’s favorite film of the year. Check out my interview below as we dissect his process, and explore the age-old debate between personal taste vs mainstream appeal.