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Dan Webster reviews “Amanda”


No matter how well a culture is thriving, but especially if it’s not thriving at all, a generation of disaffected youth seems always to arise. And whether we’re talking about music or painting, cinema or literature, some aspect of art ends up becoming a symbol of the cultural angst that those youth tend to feel. In terms of music, think of the rebellious aspects of rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s or hip-hop in the 1990s.

In my life, I’ve felt a kinship with many different kinds of art. But the two that had the most profound influence on me during my own youthful phase of disaffection involved literature and film. The first was J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Though I first read the book more than a decade and a half later, the lost-generation feel of Salinger’s narrative filled me, ironically, with hope. I wasn’t, Salinger seemed to be telling me, alone.

The second was Mike Nichols’ 1967 movie The Graduate. Similar to Salinger, Nichols’ film—which was adapted from Charles Webb’s novel by screenwriters Calder Willingham and Buck Henry—captured the feel of someone, fresh out of college, with no idea of what to do next… though absolutely certain that it would have nothing to do with “plastics.”

Both characters represented the kind of vague sense of desperation that I felt throughout my teenage years. I finally grew out of the feeling, as adults generally do, by applying myself—to a career, to marriage (first one, then the next), and to fatherhood (the bond that made the biggest difference of all). It was a gradual process, though, and one that not everyone finds easy to do.

Take the title character in the Italian film Amanda. Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Carolina Cavalli, the Amanda played by actress Benedetta Porcaroli gives new meaning to the term disaffected. Born into wealth, her parents the owners of a chain of pharmacies, Amanda is hard to like. She’s self-absorbed, rude to the extreme, unaware or, more likely, uncaring of how other people—especially members of her own family—see her.

Yet she has yearnings. Though she’s in her mid-20s, Amanda has never had a boyfriend, she’s never had a job, she lives in an apartment that her parents pay for, and other than the family’s housemaid, Judy (played by Ana Cecelia Ponce), she’s never even had a friend. Her main activities involve attending raves that, strangely, are sparsely attended, going to the movies, and lusting after enough points at a local grocery to earn a generic floor fan.

Then her mother (played by Monica Nappo), worried about her daughter—albeit in a listless, indifferent sort of way—suggests that Amanda connect with someone. The someone whom mom has in mind happens to be the daughter of a woman that she’s known for years, long enough—she says—that Amanda and the daughter once played together as toddlers.

At first resistant, Amanda ultimately decides to pursue the girl, Rebecca (played by Galatéa Bellugi), though solely on her own terms. Faced with the fact that Rebecca has her own problems—being an agoraphobe who rarely ventures from her bedroom—and is resistant to Amanda’s entreaties, our protagonist literally demands to be noticed.

Her path to even a sense of happiness is, predictably, not easy to navigate. This is a young woman, after all, who has attempted to befriend of all things an aging, neglected horse, who fantasizes that she has a relationship with a scruffy young man (played by Michele Bravi) who refuses to return her affections—such as they are—and whose near-drowning as a child was what set in motion her whole attitude toward life.

So, you might ask, why would I want to spend time with such an unlikable character? To which there is no simple, single answer. After all, filmmaker Cavalli is less interested in explaining why Amanda is the way she is than in exploring how she navigates her world in such a negative way. One positive, though, is the film’s occasional moments of quirk, such as when the mother—all alone in her lavish living room—breaks into an impromptu silent dance.

The other is the performance of Porcaroli, who does manage to portray the vulnerability beneath Amanda’s hard-eyed exterior—the kind of vulnerability that could stand as a testament of a generation that is as guarded of its feelings as it is wary of anything remotely soothing and sweet.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster is a senior film critic for Spokane Public Radio and a blogger for

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  • On this week’s show, Dan Webster, Nathan Weinbender, and Mary Pat Treuthart will be discussing two movies whose main characters exhibit bad behavior that reflects their inner conflicts, behavior that only gradually gets explained, if at all. First up is “Dreamin’ Wild,” the based-on-a-real-story of a pair of Eastern Washington musicians, followed by “Amanda,” an Italian-language study of a woman in her mid-20s whose personality seems as stunted as it is brittle.