Once We Were Strangers

Director: Emanuele Crialese
Screenwriters: Emanuele Crialese

Institute History

  • 1998 Sundance Film Festival


Usually romantic comedies deal only with the superficial fluff of relationships and avoid at all costs anything but the flimsiest issues, which is why this wonderfully charming story of emigrés to the United States is such a delight. In the tradition of the social comedies of Italian directors like Monicelli and Risi from the 1960s, Emanuele Crialese makes a wonderful debut with this inspired combination of romance and acute perception in the colorful neighborhoods of New York City.

Two couples are the focus, the first from India. Apu, a now-naturalized New Yorker still struggling to find the American Dream of success and fulfillment, is meeting his prearranged wife, chosen by their mutual families when they were both children, at the airport. Needless to say, they’re from very different worlds. Meanwhile Antonio, a green-cardless Sicilian eking out an existence in the immigrant underground of the city, is jumping from job to job, getting by on personality and seductiveness, when he falls for an American girl who is a radio talk-show host. Although she’s resistant, he pursues her with all his sweetness and charm, but they face hurdles at every turn.

Crialese, himself an Italian emigré, displays a wonderfully observant eye and deft touch for comedy and dialogue. A perfectly cast narrative that turns what looks like archetypical clichés into personable and effective characters, Strangers is a extremely perceptive look at modern America and its historical role as a melting pot. Multileveled and metaphorically rich, this film belies its generic roots and transforms into a wonderful cinematic experience.

Emanuele Crialese, Director
Born in Rome, Emanuele Crialese studied film at the University La Sapienza. In 1991 Crialese came to New York to study film at NYU’s Tisch School of the ARts, where hewon the prestigious WTC scholarship with his short film Call Me. In 1992 he wrote and directed Heartless, which won him nine awards, including the Jury Prize at the 1995 Capalbio Film Festival, presented by famed Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni. Crialese graduated from NYU in 1995, and Once We Were Strangers was shot in 1996.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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