Trailer: Vanessa Kirby is Adrift in New York in ‘Italian Studies’

It’s particularly interesting that Italian Studies was filmed over a period of months spanning 2018 and 2019, as its themes of isolation and confusion are absolutely very 2020/21 (and likely now 2022, as well). Director Adam Leon, whose 2016 heist drama Tramps netted him significant acclaim, has written a story that seems sort of suspended between the real and the unreal, which certainly echoes the general feeling of being mostly cut off from other people during the various lockdowns of the last 21 months.

Vanessa Kirby – who played a young Princess Margaret in The Crown, as well as the White Widow in the last and next Mission Impossible movies – is here a British writer of seemingly some note, as in the trailer we see an admirer stop her on the street and inquire, “Are you Alina Reynolds by any chance? I’m a big fan of your work.” Alina acknowledges that she is, though seems genuinely quite unsure herself. (“I don’t remember who I am…or where I’m supposed to go,” we hear in a voiceover.)

The film is actually told in flashbacks, as an ostensibly normal Reynolds encounters a teenaged American girl in London, who reminds her that they had spent time together in New York – though the writer has no recollection of meeting her. “How is that possible?,” the stranger-but-not-stranger asks her.

The implication is that she perhaps suffers from long blackout periods – and from there the action then mostly focuses on that time in NYC which has been wiped from her memory. Or maybe it never really planted there in the first place? It was during that time that she apparently took up a friendship with an outlier of a character named Simon, who was earnestly startled that she would undertake such a “violation of social norms” that seemed to him nearly unthinkable. (“You came with me…and nobody [else] would.”)

Possibly the most intriguing scene is one where we see Alina picking up one of her own books (titled Italian Studies And Other Stories) in a library. It begs the question, if we lost our memory, would it be triggered by something we had ourselves created? Regardless, Kirby seems to play Alina the entire time with a mix of unsettling blankness, stunned bewilderment, and gripping intensity.

“It’s all just beyond my grasp,” she explains. “I feel like I’m just about to get home, and it just…slips away.”

Italian Studies is in theaters and on-demand January 14 via Magnolia Pictures.

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