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Female Filmmakers in Focus: Carolina Cavalli on Amanda

Combative, entitled, and somewhat indolent, upper-class twentysomething Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) doesn’t quite fit anywhere. She doesn’t want to work in her family’s chain of pharmacies. She doesn’t want to live at home but can’t afford to pay her own rent. She doesn’t really have any friends other than her parents’ maid Judy (Ana Cecilia Ponce). She goes to movies and raves in search of a boyfriend but can’t seem to make any real connection. This all changes when she reconnects with her childhood friend, the reclusive Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi). 

After premiering last year at the Venice Film Festival and screening at the Toronto International Film Festival – the only Italian film to screen at both – writer/director Carolina Cavalli’s debut deadpan dramedy makes its way stateside later this month via Oscilloscope. Fans of off-kilter, dry humor will find much to love in this delayed coming-of-age ode to the life-changing power of female friendship. 

Cavalli, who also co-wrote the similarly deadpan Sundance 2023 charmer “Fremont” with director Babak Jalali, came to cinema kind of late in life. After moving from Milan to France to attend The American University of Paris to study Comparative Literature, she watched movies from all over the world and different eras in all the small theaters across the city. She realized she could combine her love of writing and her newfound love of the cinema-going experience into something uniquely her own. And between “Amanda” and “Fremont,” a singular new cinematic voice has emerged. 

For this month’s Female Filmmakers in Focus column, spoke to Cavalli over Zoom about the difficulty of making adult friends, feeling like you’re failing at life, the isolation of leaning on technology to connect with others, and her collaborations with Jalali.

I loved “Amanda” when I saw it at TIFF last year. Its overarching theme of how hard it is to make friends as an adult. This resonated deeply as someone who went through a similar struggle during my 20s. How did you develop that aspect of the film?

I really think that when she says, “How can I make friends? I’m no longer going to school. I'm not going to scouts.” I’m always thinking about that when I go to a new city and I'm alone. I think how can you approach a group of adults be like, “My name is Carolina ...”

... and I want to be your friend.”

Yeah. This first moment of contact is ... it's very difficult for me. It has always been, and I also noticed the need for immediate intimacy is something I feel very strongly about. Most times it’s not exactly what you expect from a first meeting with a person, but it's just that you feel like you recognize another human being who's exactly like you, or not exactly like you, but a human being at least who you just want to share things with. That's two personality traits that I put on Amanda that I feel like that I recognize in myself. They're very familiar to me. While the rest it's a bit less familiar.

Another aspect I really thought was emotionally resonant was how Amanda is continually asking if Judy is ashamed of her or if Viola is ashamed of her daughter. It’s that idea that failure to launch can cause shame in these people that are supposed to love you no matter what. 

I think it's a bit strange structurally in our society, the fact that you can fail at life. This idea that there are people who are winners and others who are failing or losers. It's very difficult first of all to understand that, but once you recognize these elements, you're just like, I don't know, you're fragile. You’re worried not necessarily to fail, but to be seen failing. And I don't think it's something natural. I think a game over in life is when you die. But there is this concept that dictates a lot of the ambitions and fears in our daily life. And actually, we would live much better if we were free from that. 

I agree. Like when she is panicking because her non-boyfriend is gonna think she's a loser. That's a really painful scene, but I felt that deeply. That also ties to that desire for immediate intimacy with him. I've definitely been in a few situations-ships where I thought I was dating somebody, and watching this, I was like, “Oh no, this is my biography.” Amanda reminds me a lot of me. I just rewatched the film with my boyfriend, and he was like, “I see why you liked this movie.”

Is he really your boyfriend? [laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, he's really my boyfriend. Also, on this rewatch, I really noticed the way you costumed Amanda and Rebecca. Amanda has that beautiful crocheted sweater that she wears all the time, and Rebecca is always in some form of sportswear like she’s still the person she was when she won all those trophies.

It was important from the beginning not to make many stylistic choices, but rather start from the plot and from the characters especially. And so I thought Amanda would have been someone who doesn't change her clothes much, because she doesn't have much space and she doesn't really enjoy change, and also it’s kind of like an armor for her. I always thought that whenever you don't change your clothing often, it's kind of like you're the same as the day before. If you're looking for yourself, looking similar every day, from the external point of view, may help you with understanding your continuum of identity. And so I thought about these two things, and also the fact that I don't think she buys much. She steals from her little niece, for example, the crochet thing, or from her sister or grandma. She steals from the house. All the things she has she found in different ways, so that's why it's a bit of a mix of mix and match. 

With Rebecca, yes, there is a lot of nostalgia for what she considered her glorious past to fit in this new,  different dimension, which is like the room she lives in. So it's like sportswear but it's kind of pajamas. That's her two realities.

I also love the way you incorporated tech into the film without it feeling too obvious. Like her Siri always calling her “sexy mama” or her use of Chatroulette, which is always fascinating. I don't know if I've ever seen Chatroulette in a film before. She also has a line like, “I have a lot of friends. They're just all online,” which made me feel very seen. But as you get older, you realize that even if you have all these friends online, there is still this need for an in-person human connection, because online friendships can't fulfill everything. 

Every time I have online relationships, even with strangers, I feel there is something missing, but I don't really know why. Especially with Chatroulette, you feel very free. But these people stop existing in 10 minutes or two hours if you're lucky to meet someone you get on with, but you may never get to see them in person. It creates this kind of mono-portion. We're used to that, but of course, that’s not going to create a relationship that will fulfill us completely. And at the same time, I'm very shocked at how I am completely aware that the voice of my phone doesn't exist or this doesn't exist in a body with a brain and a soul, but I still feel sad, for example, if I see something that doesn't exist in human form suffering. I still feel attached to them. This is a problem because we're used to that and I hope it's not going to become a real problem.

Yeah, it's definitely part of the isolation we're starting to see in modern life because tech is replacing a lot of what we used to have. But it's both helpful and detrimental. I don't know that there's an answer, which I'm glad that the film doesn't try to have an answer about that either. 

Yes, I also feel that it's much easier to have a relationship with a voice and with a horse or with a fan, or with a child who is not your own child. So probably, this helps you also to become lazier in relationships. And, to be honest, I think friendship is a very intelligent and human relationship, but it's difficult to have it with a technological tool or voice because friendships are based on our common choice, and it's something you have in common with another human. It is when you feel a connection. I love friendship, personally. It’s my favorite kind of relationship. 

Friendships are really underrated. I'd love to talk about the deadpan comedic tone you strike with this film. I laughed so hard, but it’s hard to explain why it's funny until you watch it. Were there any inspirations for the tone?

It's always a question mark. This is the beauty and the mystery of humor. It has a context all the time. For example, I remember watching “Family Guy” with my parents, and they were not laughing at all, but I was dying, I was laughing so much. And now I'm scared that if I watch something with a 12-year-old girl that I'm not going to laugh. I have the feeling there is also a generational kind of humor. For sure, in Italy, there is. So I'm, I'm really happy when I hear that people love to laugh at this. To me, it's very much like music. It's really a language that is very hard to decode, but I understand when I like a certain kind of humor. I really like Northern Europe, like Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson's kind of humor.

You also have an interesting visual language. I especially love the way you employ wide shots. 

I didn't study directing; I studied writing. So for me, I always try to keep models away because, of course, I watched a lot of movies, but when I started to direct, I didn't have my visual style already. I didn't want to be influenced by others or try to recreate anything. I started really from the plot and from the feelings, and the character. So I tried to be very honest with that. So there may be influences from things I watched, but I tried never to be conscious of them.

Location is also so important in this film. You have both an industrial city and rural spaces. There’s that beautiful hotel sign where Amanda lives and then the old-school cinema, plus the really brutalist style of Rebecca's house. 

For Rebecca's house, I always had in mind a house that was not finished yet, but already in use because it was, for me, the perfect ambiance for Rebecca's room. When you have to work with people, when you start, you always have these ideas, and then slowly, they become a reality, they become concrete. At the beginning, I used to just write, so it was me and the page and the words and my imagination. Then when we began the film, I knew reality was going to be a limit. The world is going to be annoying. But then this house was really more than what I could have imagined. So I was really happy we found that.

I always try to be clear on specific, realistic locations. I am really influenced by Midwestern America. Rewatching it, I really noticed that that was almost everywhere, but also I love the idea of emptiness. So Amanda could fill it with her adventures, her missions, and finally, with human relationships. So the emptiness really helped that. 

I also like the idea that they were in a city, but not really. You always have the impression that life is happening somewhere else. She talks about having just arrived there, but even in Paris, she had no life; she had no friends. So you always have this idea of wanting to be somewhere else. I wanted a different city to show that somewhere else is always exactly the same. 

You’re still you. 


I wanted to ask about your collaboration with Babak Jalali, who edited this film, but with whom you co-wrote “Fremont,” which debuted at Sundance earlier this year. I also laughed a lot during “Fremont.” It’s clear that you both work really well together. How did that collaboration come about?

We met a long time ago. He's my best friend. He's very softly spoken, and I laugh a lot. He's quite the opposite, but he's very funny. I love his humor. He’s a director and a screenwriter, and I knew he edited films, so I really wanted him to edit “Amanda.” But I was trying not to be very explicit about that. But then he told me yes because he was waiting for “Freemont” to be produced. So I was really, really glad that I had edited with him because I didn't know before, but you have to spend a lot of time in a dark room, so you have to choose a person with whom you get along very well. And it was amazing.

“Fremont,” we wrote a long time ago. He had the story of the translator from Afghanistan. The part we figured out together was the fortune cookie factory. And, of course, I worked a lot on the tone. You don't write together, but there is always a lot of back and forth. It is always very pleasant because you write something and then when you see it on screen, it's a surprise. Things you’ve written are the same, but it's elevated and much more poetic than what you imagine that you wrote. So it was a great, great gift to work with him, I feel.

Are there any women who've made films either in the past or are currently making films that inspire you or whose work you think readers should seek out?

I love Andrea Arnold, Věra Chytilová, and Gia Coppola. In Italy, we have Alice Rohrwacher. There are so many in general, but in Italy now, there are not as many. Slowly the situation is changing, and there are new directors starting out, but for mainstream directors, apart from Alice Rohrwacher, there aren’t many. 

"Amanda" will be available in theaters starting Friday, July 7th. 

Marya E. Gates

Marya E. Gates is a freelance film and culture writer based in Los Angeles and Chicago. She studied Comparative Literature at U.C. Berkeley, and also has an overpriced and underused MFA in Film Production. Other bylines include Moviefone, The Playlist, Crooked Marquee, Nerdist, and Vulture. 

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