It’s Amanda’s World and We’re All Just Living In It

Amanda (2022)

Oscilloscope

Amanda (Benedetta Porcaroli) moves through a strange city alone—the setting shifting from rural roads to urban streets, from semi-commercial farms to lush villas to fluorescent-lit dumpling shops. It is difficult to imagine all of these settings existing within one city, let alone within walking distance of each other, but Amanda strides through them all in quick succession. She saves up grocery store points and listlessly clicks through online chat rooms looking for someone—anyone—to talk to, only for a horny disembodied voice to suggest she change something in her life. She agrees to visit her mother’s friend’s reclusive daughter, Rebecca (Galatéa Bellugi)—and suddenly her obsession with having someone to talk to finds an outlet. Change might not be so daunting after all. Amanda believes she has cashed in her lifelong dream: she has replaced constantly dreaming of companionship with constant companionship. 

Carolina Cavalli’s debut feature film, Amanda (2022), is a bildungsroman of sorts, a coming-of-age tale set years after most girls come of age. Amanda returns home from a stretch of time in Paris under the guise of supporting the family pharmacy, but she never shows up to work. Somewhere between apathy and rebellion, she spends brilliantly blue days poolside, trespassing farms and raving in haphazard warehouses—that is, until she meets Rebecca. 

Amanda and Rebecca are a strange pairing. They are not only unlikely friends, but reluctant friends. Nonetheless, they share insecurities, operate with similar levels of intensity and ultimately complement each other. Rebecca claims she used to be ‘normal’—she had once been good at everything, especially sports, but now refuses to leave her bedroom. Amanda, in contrast, has never been considered ‘normal’ or ‘good at things,’ but she is moderately more functional than Rebecca by nature of her extroversion. Amanda is a portrait of youth, obsession, and entitlement—and strangely, despite Amanda and Rebecca’s self-absorption, neither of them are concerned with beauty. They are concerned with being liked, but not concerned with being likable. They are confident in unexpected, antisocial ways. While their youthful stubbornness propels obsession, this must give way to reality eventually. Amanda reveals that perhaps part of growing up is understanding how one’s desires and fixations can act as sources of momentum. 

Obsessions stem from the stories we tell in our heads. When we have no one to share these stories with, they grow, take root, and turn in strange directions unbounded by the perspective or input of others. Before striking up a friendship with Rebecca, Amanda doesn’t yet know that she needs a friend, only that she wants someone to share things with, and boys—mysterious, alluring, just out of reach—seem like the answer. If she could just have one boyfriend, she would also have a best friend, and perhaps her chronic dissatisfaction would be resolved. Amanda spends her passive days dreaming of boyfriends and imagining what could have come from missed connections, living within the bounds of her own stories. 

The film establishes this early, as Amanda narrates her stint in Paris: “It wasn’t easy to meet guys there. They are weird. At times you feel like they’re there alone on a Saturday night only because they have nowhere else to go. This feeling is almost confirmed by the fact that I am also there alone on Saturdays because I wouldn’t know where else to go or with whom.” She speaks with a distance; her time spent studying abroad is behind her. She has returned home to Italy now, but she is still stuck carrying the fantasy of a French boyfriend. “Once, at a screening, I had a crush on somebody. We looked at each other. To be honest, we looked at each other a lot,” she narrates over silent footage of their tension in the cinematheque. The cinematography becomes extra cinematic here, reminiscent of a film noir in the close ups of the crush’s eyes, the rustling of popcorn, Amanda’s nervous tic of biting her nails, waiting for him to pass her in the dark and intimate red-green glow of the cinema hallways. 

The fantasy of her memory is ruptured by the present: the camera cuts to the bright, washed-out beiges of a cafe where Amanda sits drinking tea beside her adult sister. She gazes into the distance—into the camera—while her sister gazes at her, silent and judgmental. With her hands crossed on her lap and an upright posture, Amanda acts as if she is in a documentary; she admits in a factual manner, “You know what bothers me the most about this, Marina? I met him five years ago. That guy at the cinematheque could have been my boyfriend for five years. We would have shared everything for five wonderful… maybe difficult at times, but hey…such is life! Wonderful years.” Amanda’s flat tone gives the impression that she has said this before, or at least thought about saying exactly this, imagining and reimagining for herself a past and a potential future of shallow companionship; he is but a vessel that she believes she deserves. Though she interrupts herself to say “such is life!” there’s no spontaneity in her tone; her voice doesn’t pitch up into an exclamation. Marina’s silent gaze softens perhaps into pity. Five years ago, Amanda wore the same black wide-leg shorts and one of the few white t-shirts in her rotation. She has not outgrown anything. 

While Amanda is deeply lonely, she is nearly never alone. There are family dinners to fight at, with Marina, her niece, her mother, and Judy (Ana Cecelia Ponce)—her mother’s housekeeper—to complain to. When Amanda tries to convince Judy to go to raves with her, her mother intervenes and Amanda lashes out. Unaware of the irony, she calls Judy a “bourgeois bitch” for listening to her mother, and in a bout of childish hysterics shouts at her mother, “Why do you want to ruin my life!?” before whining, “It’s not easy making friends in a new city.” 

Her mother scolds her in a passionless tone: “Amanda, you’re twenty five. Not twelve.” She suggests Rebecca as a potential friend as a means of treating Amanda’s temper tantrums. The first time Amanda is refused by Rebecca, she spends the afternoon in the garden with her mother, Viola, instead, eating crumbs from an impossibly large cake and fishing bugs from the reflecting pond. Amanda determines that Rebecca’s family is even stranger than hers, and the afternoon passes, slow and awkward, while Amanda half-listens to Viola’s stories. When she learns the injustice of her childhood, that she and Rebecca could have been best friends if her family had not moved away for work, she is outraged. Until now, she has always approached friendships with a listless entitlement, “waiting for a friend” instead of looking for one—obsessed with the idea of friendship in a way that immobilizes her, allowing her assumption that she should have friends suppress the enthusiasm and intention making friends requires. The alternate reality in which the two girls are childhood best friends is an alternate reality in which Amanda’s problems don’t exist; she will stop at nothing to reclaim what could have been. Suddenly, she is obsessed with making Rebecca her intimate friend. That is, establishing but not building. Making, but not growing. She declares, “Nothing is lost!” This is the first time Amanda will make the first move, finally acting on her obsession. Unfortunately, Amanda, like most children, expects instant gratification.

Despite Amanda’s hope that they can launch back into their friendship, it is a long time before the girls learn to listen to each other. The early days of their ‘friendship’ are tenuous. Amanda tries again and again (in increasingly clever ways) to force her way into Rebecca’s room, and Rebecca works to protect her solitude. Amanda wins this small battle, and from the moment the door is opened to her, she acts as if it never closes. When her crush at the rave invites her to his birthday party, Rebecca is the first person she wants to tell, and she instigates a sleepover, lying on Rebecca’s shag carpet. Rebecca has resigned herself to Amanda’s annoying presence, and she lets Amanda recount the story of her only real experience with a boy: “I met a guy once, but we lived in two different cities.” As Amanda yawns and nestles into her pillow, the camera cuts to a reverie-like rainy parking lot outside a warehouse as Amanda narrates her first relationship. “We were really far apart. We met in an online forum.”

Amanda’s silhouette walks towards a dimly lit warehouse beside a Cash & Carry. If the internet was a concrete place, this clean cut, abandoned warehouse is it. In her reverie, Amanda strips off her baby pink raincoat and undresses in front of a metal frame stocked with neatly arranged candy pink bottles of fabric softener. Across the aisle, the boy slowly removes his own clothing in front of empty shelves. If the shelves hold offerings of personal details, then Amanda has given her boyfriend nothing in return. She craves intimacy, but she fails to recognize that a relationship is mutual and that she has to offer up herself to receive intimacy. Offering this very personal story to Rebecca, however, is the first gift Amanda gives. 

Friendship is an art of reciprocity, and while the girls have yet to learn how to properly listen to each other or recognize each other’s boundaries, Amanda’s new agency in the friendship prompts an exchange. Though Rebecca keeps her stories to herself, she begins to open up her world to Amanda. Instead of locking her out of her room, she allows Amanda to join her small rooftop bonfires, to jog around the perimeter of her house with her, to stay up late watching videos together, and play beer pong; she expands her bubble to the edges of her strange modernist house. She loosens both the constraints she puts on herself and on those around her. Containment is Rebecca’s own obsession, the one which allows her to live as she does. To combat the thing she hates the most—being constrained—Rebecca restricts herself, locking herself in her bedroom, laying in the small dark space beneath the bed, training for death or the “worst case scenario.” She burns clothes that are too tight and she avoids parties to save herself from feeling left behind or like she is “alone in a place full of people who aren’t alone.” Rebecca, who believes that she is entitled to her privacy and solitude, and Amanda, who believes in her right to show up unannounced, begin to find a rhythm of joy together—fissures in each of their self-righteous worlds. 

Exactly halfway through the film, Amanda pivots. Having finally opened herself up to intimacy, she claims, “Now my life is going fast. And if the circumstances are right, I would go exponentially faster because the speed adds up… This is a perfect example of ‘momentum’… Maybe good things didn’t happen to me because I had no one to tell them to.” She possesses a newfound hopefulness and zest for life. For the first time, the things she wants most in the world feel within reach: “One day you’re nobody. And the next day you wake up, you have a best friend, a boyfriend, and almost an electric fan and a horse.”

Alongside this rapid good and internal change come growing pains. Amanda, slowly outgrowing her ego, is reckoning with the perspectives of others for the first time. In truth, she only has one of the things she really wants: a friend. She has yet to learn the importance of reciprocity in maintaining these relationships. She does not have a boyfriend nor the means of obtaining a horse. She only has the phone number of a boring boy she met at a rave, saved in her contacts as “My Boyfriend,” and a horse who she illegally feeds cereal to in the dark of night.

Under the surface of her obsessions with having friends and a boyfriend, Amanda is truly obsessed with shame and independence. She is convinced that people are ashamed of the children they raise, and she is in love with the idea of appearing independent. With few assets, limited authority, and little control of her life, Amanda asserts her independence through walking. It’s the only way she can move herself through the world. When she first goes out to dinner with “My Boyfriend,” she refuses to let him drive her home so that she can appear independent; when she fights with her sister in a barren supermarket parking lot, she insists on walking home again. Her sister, shocked, shouts “Where the fuck are you going? We’re in the middle of nowhere, Amanda!” and she responds by centering the world and the narrative around herself, negating her sister, “You’re in the middle of nowhere!” 

Though she wins these small arguments in the first half of the film, there is only so much power Amanda can claim by walking away. This becomes clear when she decides to walk away from her family’s financial generosity at the goading of her sister. Riding the high of believing she has achieved friendship and romance, Amanda announces: “Since it bothers you so much, from now on I won’t need anything.” She finishes her meal, packs her hotel room apartment (which her parents fund) back into her suitcase and rolls it over to Rebecca’s house. Choosing not to rely on her family is not the same thing as being independent. But Amanda doesn’t know that yet. Until then, there is comfort and sweetness before the delayed consequences of her decision roll in. A blue lamp glows in Rebecca’s room at night, illuminating the girls’ ‘sleepover’ through the window––Rebecca leans against Amanda’s shoulder as they flip through magazines together. 

Despite her strangeness and separation from the world, Rebecca has always understood the reciprocity of love better. Even though she tires of Amanda’s constant presence, she tries to be kind and she readily believes Amanda’s stories. When Amanda tells her about her boyfriend, she doesn’t ask questions. From the bounds of her home on the precipice of her rooftop, overlooking the glowing city in the distance, Rebecca is sincere with Amanda: “I’m glad you’ve found someone who loves you. I hope he can take care of you, and you of him.” Ultimately, if Amanda and Rebecca are going to be friends in the world they are building for themselves, they will need to learn how to take care of each other in this same manner. Since their relationship started with Amanda’s forced entry, care has never been obvious, but it has expressed itself as tolerance and a slow build of confidentiality between them.

Things begin to spiral. The horse is not for sale. The world expands at a rapid rate. Amanda faces off against unreasonable will, not unlike her own, when she is introduced to Rebecca’s therapist, Ann (Giorgia Favoti), a woman who formally informs her that she is a bad influence. Amanda begins to experience a fiery jealousy when Rebecca shares her feelings not only with her, but also with her therapist, and says that she still needs time to decompress and do things alone. It hurts to know that she and Rebecca don’t seek the exact same things from their friendship, such as constant companionship and assertion that they are wanted by the other. “My Boyfriend” is an exaggeration and a delusion. He is just a boy who has invited Amanda to a party, something to cling to as proof of her social momentum before he abruptly breaks her heart. Sitting Amanda down where they first met, in an eerie dumpling shop, he tells her there’s been a misunderstanding. Amanda’s delusion cracks, and changes in her life continue to accelerate; she still behaves childishly but her passive approach to her mid-twenties is proving unsustainable. 

Up until now, she had placed so much happiness in having a boyfriend, not being in a relationship. But once her stasis of want is disrupted, that dull throb of dissatisfaction with life, she discovers that it is so much more painful to have things taken away then to never have had them. Walking away from her “boyfriend” for the final time, Amanda wanders until dawn, only to be informed by Ann that she must initiate a friend breakup; she must sacrifice her happiness for Rebecca’s mental health. Amanda cracking wide open, throwing herself towards the stairs up to Rebecca’s room against her mother’s restraint, screaming, “Rebecca! There’s another woman!…Rebecca, don’t leave me alone!…He thinks I’m a loser! We have to go together! He thinks I’m a loser!” Her hysterical monologue is the first time she openly asks for help and asks to be cared for. Still, the adults send her away.

Suitcase in hand, she steals the old mottled gray horse, with the dream of running away: Amanda, Rebecca and the horse against the world. She tries to explain to Rebecca that they need each other and that they could run away together: “I’m here because I felt I was missing a friend I never had. But that’s not possible, you understand? You can’t miss something you never had. Then I found out that I did have a friend. And it was you.” However, Rebecca is competitive, and despite presenting herself as closed off to the world, she has listened to Amanda’s tall tales; she knows that destroying one of Amanda’s stories is the ultimate way to inflict pain and awaken her insecurities. She reminds Amanda of how, historically, she has always been so very unlikeable, claiming that their childhood friendship came from a place of pity—that even then, Rebecca had never chosen to spend time with Amanda. When Amanda tries to steal the last words of the quarrel from her, each of them fighting to shout the last “fuck you!” Rebecca pitches a trophy, hitting Amanda squarely in the nose. Rebecca is still good at sports, and as blood trickles down Amanda’s lip, she closes the conversation with an icy, “Someone had to do it.” 

Amanda might have suffered twenty-five mild years from the affliction of a lethargic, privileged, and lonely life, but she hadn’t truly hurt until now. She wipes away the blood in awe, and returns home with the understanding that she must rely on herself. She gets an internship at Emilio Electrico, a second-hand electronics shop. She moves back into her downtown apartment. In the process of taking initiative for her own circumstances, Amanda learns that independence and acting alone are not the same thing—and that, likewise, being alone and being lonely are not the same, either. In exchange for her initiative, she finds she is treated more like the adult she would like to be. Men notice her, and she does not feel a desperate attraction to them. Her mother begins to ask her what she thinks. She returns to the cinema, for the first time, genuinely waiting for a friend, hoping that Rebecca will come find her on common ground—both Ann and Viola have suggested that it’s better to see Rebecca on neutral territory, and for Amanda to listen to this advice, she must also respect Rebecca’s timeline. Buying two tickets for the movies every night, one for her and one for Rebecca, Amanda invests in hope, and learns to offer invitations that can be denied. She makes room for other’s opinions. 

Finally, in the glaring afternoon sun outside her apartment, Amanda’s loyalty is tested. “My Boyfriend” shows up at her doorstep to accuse her of crashing his party and setting off twenty firecrackers in his living room. Amanda knows immediately that this is Rebecca’s doing—though she doesn’t yet know that Rebecca arrived in style, riding solo to the party on horseback. She only knows that Rebecca heard her cry for help. Though Rebecca never made it to the cinema, her sense of justice is stronger than her fear of leaving home. Amanda’s time apart from Rebecca has given her room to mature and learn not only to walk away, but also to moderate her feelings, weigh the consequences of her actions, and walk towards the things she wants. She walks away from her ex’s accusations understanding the courage this must have taken for Rebecca. 

With the ball back in Amanda’s court, she returns to the modernist house to find her friend sunbathing on the lawn, ready to say “thank you” for the first time, ask if something is wrong, and pay attention to her friend’s stories. Rebecca confesses that the fireworks scared off the old horse. The guilt of this ruptures the self-obsessed shells of both girls, and instead of fearing that others are ashamed of them, they are finally ashamed of themselves. They are brought together by a shared understanding of their responsibility to the horse, and Rebecca leaves the house for the second time in years alongside Amanda. They enter the strange, oppressive, overwhelming world beyond their obsessions together—smiling, mature, matching each other’s stride down the long paved road into the unknown. “I do whatever the fuck I want, Amanda,” Rebecca tells her, and Amanda wouldn’t ask for anything else.