In Lamerica (1994), Gianni Amelio challenges cultural and national essentialism by dismantling the imagined border that separates Italian identity from Albanian identity.

The film is set in year 1991, where post-communist Albania is in poverty and thousands of Albanians are desperate to cross the border for a better life in Italy. But without an Italian passport, the people face deportation and denied entrance into this apparent “land of opportunity,” a situation comparable to the Italian migration to the United States. This connection is highlighted by Spiro, an old man who first appears to be Albanian but in reality is Italian, when he mistakenly believes that he is traveling to America, not Italy.

The story’s protagonists are Gino, a young man planning to swindle the Albanian government out of grant money by setting up a fictitious company, and Spiro, a former prisoner Gino recruits to be the head of his company. The problems begin when the delusional Spiro disappears, forcing Gino on a chase to keep up his company’s ruse.

Gino starts out in a jeep, wearing sunglasses and a jacket – most importantly, he has a Italian passport. Throughout the film, he loses the material possessions that distinguishes him from the surrounding Albanians. First, he loses his car. Later, his sunglasses and jacket. Finally, it is his passport that is taken away from him, resulting in his loss of an Italian identity. In the end scene, he is physically and culturally indistinguishable from the Albanians, who look like him and speak the same language as him. Through Gino’s Albanization, Amelio reveals the lack of concrete cultural and national borders and demonstrates the frailty of an identity that depends on a piece of paper.

by Xiaoqian Lim

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