TIFF 2022 Review: Carolina Cavalli’s “Amanda” Brilliantly Stands Alone

“Do you know why you don’t do anything, Amanda?” her mother (Monica Nappo) asks rhetorically in Carolina Cavalli’s delicious feature debut that takes it’s name from its impetuous lead, played by a magnetic Benedetta Porcaroli. “Because you are too busy doing nothing.”

The 25-year-old’s mind is always going, even if she has no place to go, trapped in a routine that involves the solitary act of moviegoing and staying out late at raves where it always seems like she arrives just after the party’s over. Unconcerned with work when she comes from a family that can cover expenses, she uses her credit card primarily to keep a hotel room far away from them, trying to forge online connections via online chats that turn aggressively sexual and struggling to create bonds off of it when she doesn’t like the messy work of socializing. Writer/director Cavalli notes with an arresting opening shot that she’s been this way since she was a child, seen in the lap of luxury eating corn flakes on a float I’ll in the middle of the pool when she almost drowns in what may or may not be a bid to get attention, and at this point, her only true friend is Judy, the housekeeper who saved her that day and two decades on, thinks it might be time for her to find a few other people to have in her life.

This becomes a Quixotic quest for Amanda and Cavalli crafts a tale only slightly less surreal than Cervantes though arguably just as accomplished, observing the misanthropic young woman try to be more of a part of the world she’s long saluted with a middle finger. Although she finds for herself a man (Michele Bravi) with iffy prospects at a rave – he clarifies he hands out free condoms to guests when she thinks he’s a drug dealer because of his shoes – Amanda actually may be able to strike up a deeper bond with Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi), the daughter of her mother’s friend Viola (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) who is similarly disaffected as she is, though the two are resistant to getting to know each other at first precisely because their moms have put them together. Their peculiarities run deep and reflect how their uniqueness becomes their most attractive element to both each other and eventually, “Amanda” as a whole when Cavalli unapologetically lets her freak flag fly to enchanting effect.

Amanda gets excited by the strangest things, beaming from ear to ear upon getting the actual Emilio from Emilio’s Electronics on the phone (never mind he’s probably the only employee of his self-run business) and holding out hope she can accumulate enough reward points from a local store to obtain an LED fan she could surely afford to buy without the wait, and her delight is infectious as the film locates similar bits of joy in the mundane. With cinematographer Lorenzo Levrini, Cavalli is able to express how Amanda is surrounded by shambling decadence in expensive but decaying houses, a foundation where her standing is never threatened but no longer look like they allow for the capability to grow and Porcaroli herself brilliantly lets small cracks show in the armor, projecting imperviousness but nursing pain underneath that has sharpened her tongue and toughened her skin. She may feel unloved, but Cavalli makes it so easy to fall for her and as you see Amanda break out of the gilded cage she finds herself in, it feels like a breakthrough for its wildly talented filmmaker as well.

“Amanda” will screen again at the Toronto Film Festival on September 17th at 12:30 pm at the Scotiabank.