A French film set in Los Angeles and Tijuana sounds a bit bizarre. Perhaps. Americano is in some ways the French idea of the American Dream by way of Mexico. There is an interplay between all three cultures as the central character makes his way through three countries and various relationships.
Martin is a bit stuck. His girlfriend is about to move out because he will not commit to having children. Just as all this is coming to a head, he gets a phone call from California that his mother has died. He must go to America to deal with her house and to bring her body back to France for burial. All of this is a bit more than Martin can deal with. When he arrives in L.A., he is surrounded by the memories of the past. He tries to focus on the business aspects to avoid his grief. When he discovers a note that implies that his mother wanted a young Mexican woman named Lola to have her house, he goes on a search for this woman. He finds out she has been deported. He heads to Tijuana where his searching leads him to a seedy backstreet brothel and a woman who doesn’t seem to care about any of it. Is she really the woman who brightened his mother’s life, or is he being taken? Will this experience break him or help him move on in his life?
Although the film is fictional, there are connections to director Mathieu Demy’s life. As did Martin, Demy stayed for a time in Los Angeles with his mother after his parents divorced. The film serves as a way of honoring both his filmmaker parents, French New Wave director Jacques Demy, whose first feature film was entitled Lola, and Agnes Varda, whose film Documenteur is incorporated into this film.
The central issue of the film is if Martin, who has walled himself off from meaningful relationships (as is seen most clearly in his lack of commitment), can see the isolation in which he lives and discover a way to connect with others, and possibly a future. The worlds that are familiar to Martin—Paris and L.A.—don’t stimulate him. When he finds himself dealing with the dark side of Tijuana, however, there is something there that brings excitement to his dull life. It is not so much the danger or the sexual undertones of the situation that brings the excitement; rather it grows out of the relationships that he must work at to bring some closure to his grief and satisfaction to his questions about his mother’s life since he returned to France years ago.
American audiences may find the French perspective on our lives a bit off-key, but it is always instructive to see how others view us—and our American Dream.