“Italian Studies” is a drama film trying to present the frailties and the insignificance of human memories, with its protagonist, Alina Reynolds, who struggles to grasp her own identity. However, it is perhaps best to add the word “seemingly” ahead of such a description of the film, as director Adam Leon tries a lot but succeeds very little in making his film about anything particular. Such a film then focuses on experiences, feelings, and thoughts, and it is in these aspects that “Italian Studies” feels rather weak, empty, and confused.
‘Italian Studies’ Plot Summary
A young woman meets with her husband in busy London and accompanies him to a recording studio, possibly his place of profession. She sits through a session and observes two girls, younger than her, record a song. In the end, she leaves the building and sees a girl, part of the singers’ group, smoking, and approaches her asking for a cigarette. As the woman lights her cigarette, the girl asks if she recognizes her, but the former is utterly confused. Despite the girl describing their meetings in New York and with Simon, her friend who had brought the woman along to a party, the woman is unable to place any of it in her memory, and she is certain at first that she is being confused as someone else. But with the girl’s persistent belief that she knows who she is talking to, the woman meekly asks if this was around the time when she had lost her dog, perhaps suggesting that that was a time of which she had no memory of.
In New York City, the woman is seen walking out of her apartment with her pet dog on a leash. She walks through the busy city, with many fleeting faces appearing before her and the camera, before going away in a moment. She reaches a hardware store and enters inside, leaving her dog outside with its leash tied to a beam. Looking at screws and paintbrushes, some sort of dreamy unsettledness seems to take over her, as she remembers or thinks of a group of young friends and their conversation. The shopkeeper’s offer of assistance breaks her thoughts, and she leaves the store asking to be excused. The woman then walks on with no memory of her dog, which remains tied to the beam outside the store. As she aimlessly wanders through the city streets, it is understood that the woman has no memory of who she is or what her life is like.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who Is The Woman? How Does She Deal With Her Loss Of Memory?
Moving through the streets, often stopping and taking in whatever she sees, the woman is seen even calling up emergency services from a public telephone, seemingly to report her own situation of not being able to remember. But she is ultimately unable to say anything, and the operator on the other end treats her call like just another false call. The woman then gradually tries to find acceptance and peace in her situation, and she keeps walking without any aim or objective, witnessing various daily-life events in a metropolis. That evening, she walks into a hot dog joint and waits around for the counter to clear, still looking very lost and confused. The young boy who had been ordering now occupies a table near her and starts up a quite insignificant conversation with her about the troubles of buying hot dogs with credit cards. He offers one to her, but she denies it, saying that she thinks she is probably vegetarian. The young boy, who introduces himself as Simon, does not seem to take much notice of the incoherence in the woman’s words and actions as one would normally do, and is instead very amused at the fact that a vegetarian has come to a hot dog restaurant. He, too, admits that he is gluten intolerant and yet cannot help but visit the hot dog joint often because of his love for the food. The two quickly develop an interest in each other as they find similarities, and Simon asks the woman to accompany her, to which she agrees. The two take the subway and then keep walking around, having more insignificant conversations, and then at one point, the woman seems to grow unfamiliar with her surroundings once more and claims that she has to go looking for a girl. Simon manages to talk to her and calm her down, and he takes her to a library where he hides his stash of weed, as his vigilant mother makes it impossible for him to store weed at home. As night falls, the woman sets out on her own, in search of food and shelter, as she has no clue where her home is or if she even has one. She tries to get some instant food from a store for free as she does not have any money with her, but the shopkeeper cautiously avoids her ploy. She is then forced to steal some meager food from another departmental store and spend the night on a hotel’s staircase after her plan to trick the hotel receptionist also fails.
The next morning, she meanders through the city again when a lady stops her and says that she is an ardent fan of her work. The woman is now revealed to be a published writer named Alina Reynolds, who has already published a short story collection called “Italian Studies.” Alina soon visits a library and reads her own work, and is pleasantly amused by it. She visits Simon’s library and meets up with him again, this time telling him of her identity. She had earlier said to her fan that she was presently working on a novel about a teenager, and now asks Simon to take her to his teenage friends so that she can learn more about people of that age. Simon agrees, and takes her to a local restaurant where all his friends gather as well, and the girl seen at the beginning of “Italian Studies” is also there. The teenagers get to know Alina through the evening, and are also a bit surprised when they all have to chip in to pay the bill, as Alina had no money, phone, or any object with her at all. Over the next few days, Alina interviews all of the friends individually as well as in groups, as they talk about their feelings, aspirations, and frustrations growing up at this time and age. She is then invited to a party where all the teenagers and more of their friends are present, and Alina keeps looking for a particular girl named Lucinda, whom she had heard sing and also read about in one of her short stories. At one point, she sits with Simon, and as he talks about his desperation and insecurities, Alina closes in and kisses him. Simon seems surprised at first, and then dejected, and he walks away from Alina, never to meet her again. Distraught by her actions and the sudden overwhelming of her emotions, Alina sits around by herself when she is joined by Lucinda. The young girl accompanies her on a walk, and the two then go to Lucinda’s beach house. Here, Alina sees Lucinda’s pet dog, and now suddenly remembers her own dog. She hastily leaves her friend and goes over to the hardware store where she had left the dog, and is again finally reunited with it, as the storekeeper had taken care of it these last few days.
Alina’s whole reaction to the loss of her memory is very different from any usual reaction to such a situation, and of course, that forms the main crux of the film. There is perhaps no particular reason or possibility to point out while thinking of what had happened to Alina. “Italian Studies” uses an equally non-linear form and narrative style as well, as the timeline of events is kept muddled in some instances. The experiences that Alina describes in her own book are the ones that she now has with the group of teenagers. Many of her experiences are not real either, as the girl from the beginning later fails to recognize anybody among her friends with the description of Lucinda. During their conversation at the restaurant, this same girl speaks about how she used to play an unusual game with herself in her childhood—after waking up from her sleep; she would pretend to not know anything about herself and her surroundings, and then try to continue such an illusion as long as she possibly could, ultimately losing when she would get hungry and ask her mother for food. The inclusion of such a conversation with quite some importance in the film might give the suggestion that what Alina does during her time in New York is similar to such a pretension, which is no longer childish but quite serious, as she dedicatedly keeps it intact even while hungry and in search of shelter. This is perhaps made a bit more believable when the film later shows Alina in perfect health in London, with all her immediate memories intact, which occurs at the film’s beginning and end. As to why Alina would do something of this sort is also intriguing, but the easiest answer is to search for material for her books. When the lady on the streets of New York asks her if she is a novelist, Alina does look surprised but never denies it. She perhaps treats herself as a rootless, memory-less character in her short stories, or maybe she does suddenly lose her memory for some inexplicable reason, which then builds her character. The vagueness of “Italian Studies” does not allow any more clarity, and one can perhaps only just guess.
‘Italian Studies’ Ending Explained: Does Alina Get Back In Touch With Simon?
Alina and the girl from the beginning are once again seen in London, and it is clear that Alina has been remembering or retelling all the events of the time when she had lost her dog. She then describes Lucinda and asks how she is, but the girl is unable to recognise anyone by that name or description. Alina expresses her wish to thank Lucinda for helping her get back to her dog and her home, but the girl is unable to help her with it and instead suggests that she speak with Simon. But Alina turns down the idea, saying that she believes certain things or possibilities in life should be left as they are without always chasing them or pursuing them towards any fixed end. She then further explains that she is always fearful that her husband would be perturbed by the idea of her losing her memory again. She admits that they have worked towards finding some balance in life, and she would rather not go back to any links from her forgotten past. That evening, Alina walks home with her husband and remembers all the teenagers she had met in New York, including Simon, while smoking a cigarette, and then is seen entering her home.
“Italian Studies” keeps the similar vagueness of the film intact till the end, and rather adds to the possibilities as Alina now seems to remember it all. The retelling can be more than just Alina’s version, though, and it is possible to think that the girl, too, has been recollecting her memories from the time. It is perhaps that as the girl kept telling Alina of those times and conversations, Alina’s own memories started coming back too, and her remembrance adds up to be a convoluted mix-and-match with no linearity; this would perhaps explain the film’s stylistic form even. Whether or not Alina had actually gone through an episode of forgetfulness during her time in New York, meeting the girl did make her stir up memories. “Italian Studies,” more unfortunately than in any positive way, remains as foggy and convoluted as human memory itself sometimes is.
“Italian Studies” is a 2021 Drama film written and directed by Adam Leon.