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Amanda, 2023(Film Still)

Amanda: an Italian dramedy about being young, beautiful and friendless

Director Carolina Cavalli tells us the story behind her new delayed-comedy-of-age comedy, which follows a glamorous 24-year-old woman with zero friends

“If I had to put a number on my friends?” exclaims filmmaker Carolina Cavalli, taken aback by my first question. “Eight? Nine? I would say nine! I counted them very quickly.” Is that a high number? “I think so. For a period, I didn’t have many friends, so now I’m overcompensating.”

My interview opener to Cavalli is relevant as the Italian writer-director’s debut feature, Amanda, concerns a 24-year-old woman with zero friends. Played by Benedetta Porcaroli, Amanda spends her day killing time like an Apatow-ish manchild – except without a gang of wisecrackers. On paper, it sounds sad, but Cavalli injects the idiosyncratic delayed-coming-of-age comedy with visual flare and a light touch. And, let’s face it, if you watch arthouse cinema in your spare time, there’s a little Amanda in your DNA.

When asked if she’s applying a female, Italian spin on movies like Knocked Up, Cavalli insists that’s not the case. Speaking in Curzon’s office in February, the Milan-born director tells me she instead imagined an adult version of Pippi Longstocking. “It’s so sad to imagine characters from children’s books all grown up. Sometimes I see people in a suit, going to work, and it’s like a child dressed up.”

Porcaroli is a natural screen presence, not exactly who you’d imagine being an IRL Amanda. In Italy, Porcaroli is a mega-star through the Netflix series Baby, essentially playing the Blake Lively role in her country’s Gossip Girl. Was that so that we feel less sympathy for Amanda?

“Benedetta could definitely be Julia Roberts, but I didn’t have that in mind,” Cavalli says. “I had so much anxiety that I would not find our Amanda. She’s in almost every frame. When it’s not her face, it’s her feet. My priority was to find someone who understands the character like I do.” What did that entail? “Benedetta has this melancholy, this violent strength, this irruenza.” She apologises for taking out her phone to use Google Translate. “Impetuousness! It all comes naturally to her, which I wanted for Amanda as well. The costume never changes. She’s like a superhero who wears this armour and goes into war.”

Upon reaching breaking point, Amanda decides she’ll amass at least one friend. Not through Bumble BFF, but through an old childhood acquaintance, Rebecca (Galatea Bellugi), an antisocial shut-in who remains strictly indoors. On the contrary, Amanda is outgoing and active, albeit as a solo adventurer. “Rebecca and Amanda live their displacement in a different way. Rebecca has a safe space she controls, and is avoiding reality. Amanda lives a lot, but is scared to live for real. They’re both avoiding life in one way or another.”

On the rare occasion Amanda remains locked in her bedroom, it’s on Chat Roulette – even then, she yawns at the constant stream of men masturbating on her laptop screen. “Amanda’s like, ‘Listen, I didn’t choose you. It just happens that I’m here. If you want to skip me, it’s OK. I don’t care.’ In my experience with Chat Roulette, you see mainly dicks. But when you find a face and someone to talk to, it’s very reassuring. It’s like talking to a stranger: you don’t risk anything. You click, and it’s over. You disappear.”

While Amanda doesn’t acknowledge the pandemic, it’s a topical reflection of today’s loneliness epidemic: we’re in an increasingly online age where it’s expensive to hang out, we might still possess unhealthy lockdown habits, and many adults have been forced to move back in with their parents anyway. In Japan, extreme hermits are referred to as “hikikomori”; it is, however, a worldwide condition.

“I feel like there’s a lot [of people like Amanda and Rebecca] in my generation, in Italy,” Cavalli says. “There’s pressure on being the right person at the right time in the right place. Not fitting in makes you feel anxious and not OK with yourself. I don’t think it’s a fear of failing at life; it’s the fear of being seen failing at life.” She adds, “Stuff that’s supposed to be enjoyable – for a long period, I wouldn’t be excited about a party or a date, I would just be scared about the way I’d look and behave, or that I’d say the wrong thing.”

In her early twenties, Cavalli won a screenwriting competition and was subsequently staffed on various Italian TV series. She also co-wrote Babak Jalali’s Fremont, a 2023 black-and-white film about a translator in Afghanistan. However, Cavalli surely has a future writing and directing her own features, especially given the specific, esoteric tone of Amanda. While reviews have been quick to compare Amanda to Aki Kaurismäki, Yorgos Lanthimos and Paolo Sorrentino, it’s really just to convey that Cavalli shoots comedies with visual panache.

Still, Sorrentino is thanked in the credits. Does that mean he’s one of her nine friends? “He’s not, but I wish. I really love his cinema.” Funnily enough, Cavalli, who I can only guess was Amanda’s age when writing Amanda, tells me she wasn’t a cinephile growing up. She then grimaces as she recalls informing a journalist that she watched a lot of Family Guy – it’s true, just something she regrets uttering on the record. “Until I was 18, I watched TV constantly, and then I watched cinema. So as a teenager, it was only TV. Maybe I’m more influenced by Dawson’s Creek than Lanthimos.” (In a follow-up email at my request, she clarifies that she wasn’t actually influenced by Dawson’s Creek.)

“Not fitting in makes you feel anxious and not OK with yourself. I don’t think it’s a fear of failing at life; it’s the fear of being seen failing at life” – Carolina Cavalli

Cavalli admits she’s a prolific writer, albeit one plagued with doubt. She’s just finished a draft of a new feature (she tells me the premise, regrets sharing it, then puts her head in her hands, wondering if she’ll have to scrap it), she has several spec scripts on her laptop (they might all remain there, unsent), and she’s also recently published a novel, Metropolitania: “In books, I really like to describe smells, because I’m frustrated from not being able to in films.”

One conclusion from Amanda is a common truth rarely spoken about: it’s difficult to make friends as an adult. “All my friends are from childhood,” Cavalli says. “When you’re seven, you’re like, ‘Hi, I’m Carolina. Do you want to be my friend?’ It’s easier than when you’re 55 and say, ‘Hey, do you want to be my friend?’ And as an adult, everyone has a different life: there’s less space for friendship, which makes people feel alone.”

A solution is presented early on in Amanda when the title character confesses that she adores visiting the cinema on her own, especially if she fancies someone a few seats away. “If you’re shy and it’s difficult for you interact with people, the cinema is amazing because it’s dark,” Cavalli says. “You feel the presence of other people. I love going to the theatre by myself. I’ve always done it. To be honest, going to the cinema is like going on a date with the director of the film. So it’s OK to be alone. They’re the best dates I’ve ever had.”

Amanda is in UK cinemas and exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from June 2

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