Lucy Phillips's STEAL AMERICA, more a chronological series of vignettes than a plot-driven narrative, gives us the intertwined stories of three twentysomething Europeans living in San Francisco.
Christophe (Charlie Homo), an indolent and diffident young Frenchman, who claims to want to see the American West of cowboy movies, procures a job as a valet parker because he likes the uniform--a white lab coat--and likes being on the street. Stella (Clara Bellino), a Swiss woman he met on the
Greyhound bus en route to San Francisco, works in a postcard store where everything costs $2.99. Maria Maddelena (Diviana Ingravallo), an Italian expatriate, works in the kitchen of the restaurant where Christophe parks cars.
Their lives proceed in fits and starts. Stella is teaching herself Japanese with self-learning tapes. Maria and Christophe go to Coit Tower and talk about his desire to visit the desert and to own a big American car. Jack (Kevin Haley), a flirtatious American painter, comes into the postcard shop
several times until Stella agrees to go out with him. Christophe flimflams $10 from a rich guy by telling him his tire is flat. Jack and Stella visit Jack's favorite park, with a stunning fog-bound view of the Bay Bridge. Maria and another women do a performance piece in the park where they frolic
on a small patch of fake snow.
One morning, Christophe is fired. While he is standing outside the restaurant complaining to his friends a man demands that he park his car. Christophe gets in the car and just keeps going. He picks Stella up at the postcard store and arranges to meet Maria. They stop at a hotel, gorge themselves
on room service, have the hotel bring around someone else's car and drive off. A series of postcards flashes on the screen: Silver City, NM; Van Horn, TX; Tulsa; New Orleans; San Francisco.
One year later, Maria is the MC at the Chi Chi Club where Stella is performing as Stella Bellino and the Flying Monkeys. Christophe has been enchanted by a "voodoo queen," been deported and followed her to Haiti. Two Japanese men scouting San Francisco for jazz singers offer Stella a series of
gigs in Japan. Stella is working at a video store where everything costs $2.99. Jack is trying to move to New York, but his car only goes in reverse and he wants to consummate his relationship with Stella, which they finally do, staying in bed for three days.
Jack's car is irreparable so he arranges to get a drive-away car. There is a big going-away party. Maria is flying to New York; Jack is driving to New York; Stella is driving with Jack to Las Vegas and then flying to Tokyo. Jack and Stella drive off into the desert. They make it to Las Vegas, but
he decides he's had enough. He abandons the car at the Las Vegas airport and says he is flying to Tokyo with Stella, though they walk off in opposite directions.
Expanded to feature length from a 45-minute short, STEAL AMERICA is shot in uninspired b&w and the plot and the characters are seamless; they are both aimless, at best only vaguely directional. This is not necessarily bad. The film stands in welcome contrast to most American movies where
everything must be subsumed in and subservient to an overriding roller coaster of a plot. The characters do have quirky and interesting personalities, despite being directionless and irresponsible.
The performances are relaxed and appealing, though Diviana Ingravallo's earthy sexiness stands out. There is an interesting ambivalence about sex in the movie that is a great relief compared to the urgent heterosexuality of most films. Maria first arrives on a motorcycle with another women and is
clearly coded as a lesbian, though she also goes on a date with Christophe. Stella seems to be living with Christophe, but still dates Jack, though she doesn't sleep with him for a year. When they do, it is shot in unprovocative motionless extreme close-ups of skin. There is mention of someone
dying of AIDS, but no mention of condom use.
It's a relief to see a movie that does not use gratuitous violence and obsessive sex to hide its utter vacuousness, though one wishes the filmmaker were not as ambivalent as her characters.
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: NR
- Review: Lucy Phillips's STEAL AMERICA, more a chronological series of vignettes than a plot-driven narrative, gives us the intertwined stories of three twentysomething Europeans living in San Francisco. Christophe (Charlie Homo), an indolent and diffident young F… (more)