“Algorithm and reality may not end up coinciding.”
The App is a relevant-for-the-times techno-noir about loneliness and alienation brought on by one’s addiction to social media. It’s a tale about not trusting another’s digital identity; a philosophical exploration that makes us aware that, regardless of how much one achieves in life, they’ll always be riddled with self-loathing, never finding true happiness in their moments; for man is a creature always pining for something more, something different.
And that “more” comes in the form of the mysterious Maria, a digital femme fatale who takes over young Nick’s life.
Nick Melfi (Vincenzo Crea) is “Italy’s most famous heir” and an up-and-coming Hollywood actor (think actor-oil scion Armie Hammer or actress-sport scion Kate Mara) who defies his father’s wishes to be part of the family’s industrial empire alongside his brother and sister. His father even goes as far as to send the company’s attorney to Rome whilst Nick prepares for his first leading man role.
To fill his loneliness while away on location, and to help his girlfriend, Eva (Jessica Cressy), with her college thesis, Nick agrees to help her test a new dating app. “US, is the future of self,” she tells Nick. “It’s for people already in relationships, but curious.” And they each sign up under the aliases of “Lorenzo” and “Sara.” And you know what they say about “adventure. . . .”
Keep in mind that Nick is portraying Jesus Christ in an Italian production The Life of Jesus (directed by the acting-cameo Abel Ferrara as Paolo; yes, he of the U.K. Section 1 video nasty Driller Killer), and that Eva is Nick’s “Eve,” the phone app is the “apple,” Maria is the “serpent,” and Ofelia, the attractive, Catholic-practicing hotel concierge (Greta Scarano), is “Mary Magdalene.” And that, as Eva reminds Nick, “. . . a lot of actors have gone a little mad playing Jesus.” So Nick has ventured into the isolated, digital wilderness of the New Testament’s parable of the “Temptation of Christ.”
Will Nick experience a reboot-resurrection and be upgraded-reborn in spirit?
As the unconventional narrative of The App streamed (ironically) on my laptop, I was reminded of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962), his trilogy-statement regarding the alienation of man in the modern world; each dealt with the failure of the self and their relationships—his first color film, Il deserto rosso (1964), in particular. As with that film’s Giuliana, writer-director Elisa Fuksas’s Nick desires to end his spiritual conflicts (with his father), and while Giuliana resists her “lover” Corrado’s advances, Nick also resists, then accepts, Maria’s advances. And while Fuksas’s Maria is a cloud-based entity, Nick still makes “love” to her. For, as Antonioni said in the past, “When sexuality fails as a means of communication and provides only physical relief, then Eros is sick.”
And Antonioni was right.
Why do we, as humans, eschew physical contact for technical contact? Why will we stare for hours on end into plasma, but not into the eyes and hearts of the other? Why does one gratify the self by the “idea” of another self—a fantasy? It was Antonioni’s belief that man’s technological development did not cause his alienation, but his failure to adapt to his changing environs caused his neuroses. And here we are today, with man’s current state of illness: an illness caused by our multi-media environs. The new and most dangerous “pandemic” we face isn’t an organic disease, but an inorganic sickness. And the inorganic sickness exacerbates our (current) organic pandemic through rumor and falsehoods. For Antonioni was right: “. . . it is the men who don’t function properly—not the machines.”
Considering writer-director Elisa Fuksas’s father, Massimiliano, is an award-winning Italian architect who oversees the Euro-renown Studio Fuksas with his wife, it seems there’s a biographical element in Elisa’s work: she eschewed the family business for filmmaking. And while Antonioni’s incorporation of modern landscapes in his works shines in Fuksas’s, there’s no doubt her work serves as homage to her father and mother’s architectural influences. Her visually pleasing, mood-driven plotting in The App can be best described as a 21st century meeting of the Baroque/Rococo-infused fantasies of Federico Fellini, the sweeping color palates of Dario Argento, and the neo-noir storytelling of Abel Ferrera (look over Ferrera’s ever-evolving resume; he’s come a long way since Ms. 45).
Elisa Fuksas made her feature film debut in 2013 with the multiple-nominated and award-winning drama, Nina. Based on The App, it’s a film that I’ll seek out as I look forward to her future works. You can watch The App on Netflix in Italian with English subtitles or dubbed into English (the dub is well done).
Disclaimer: We didn’t receive a screener copy of The App from the film’s PA firm or distributor. We discovered this movie all on our own and genuinely loved the film.