Sunday, May 15, 2011

PASSIONE: Director John Turturro's Valentine to Naples

MOVIES: “PASSIONE:: John Turturro’s Valentine to Naples

Beta Cinema Presents “PASSIONE” A musical adventure by John Turturro

A Skydancers and Squeezed Heart Production

An Italy-US co-production

With the contribution of the Campania Region and of the European Union Under the patronage of the Naples Municipality

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere May 5, 2011


1-3. Scenes from “Passione”

4. Director John Turturro

5-7. Film critic Nina Rothe and her mother, Grazia de Santis, who hails from Naples, react to the film outside the screening room at the Film Forum, Houston Street, New York City, where the film premieres June 22. (Photos by Dwight Casimere)

NEW YORK-Passione is not a film with any particular structure. It is not a drama or a music video. It is neither documentary nor film narrative. It has no script or singular voice, other than those of the people who inhabit its space during an enchanting moment in time that happens to last a hundred minutes or so, but that seems to pass in the twinkling of an eye.

The scientists say that our most complex dreams occur within a matter of seconds. Passione has that dream-like quality. It suspends time and condenses an entire city, its culture and the stories of its people into a brilliant emotional travelogue conceived and directed by acclaimed actor and director John Turturro.

Invited to make a film about Neapolitan music, he became intrigued by the music he’d grown up with as an Italian-American. When he revisited the place from whence the music came and met the artists who created it, he learned that the songs were so much more than pretty lyrics and beautifully crafted notes on a page. The songs represented a way of life. They were a statement of being.

The singers were also more than mere talent. They were the preservers of a lifestyle and tradition that transcended their art form. As a result, what was intended as a documentary, transformed into a fantastic journey that defies imagination or category. Passione delves into the very depths of the soul of a place and a people. It is a voyage much like Jules Vern’s fantastic voyage to the bottom of the sea.

We meet Naples’ top singing stars, in a succession of 23 songs. They are not cast so much as performers as they are as representatives of the people of Naples.

We encounter them on a street corner or emerging suddenly from a hidden passageway or among merchants and vendors at a street market, or in a rooftop garret locked in a passionate embrace with a lover.

In short, they are the voices that emerge from the day-to-day life of this picturesque and ancient city. In their voices, we hear the echoes of cultures and civilizations that have since faded into memory. They are the conscience of the city’s many invaders; the Greeks,Turks, Arabs, French, Spanish, Normans and Americans who inhabited its twisted streets and stormed its waterfront battlements over the past eight centuries.

Their sins, triumphs and romances are echoed in the voices of Naples. We hear their anguish, feel their pain and share in their thirst for life. “The Song of the Washerwoman”(Canto Delle Lavandaie Del Vomero, performed by Fiorenza Calogero, Lorena Tamaggio and Daniela Fiorentino) echos from the aqueducts with their longing for a life of glamour and luxury that might have been. The horror of World War II is relived in the battle of the voices between Al Dexter’s twanging, Hillbilly vocalese and the “Canto Popolare” of Peppe Barra.

If there is any one of the artists who gives the film its singular “voice” it is James Senese, a master saxophonist who performs his original composition “Passione” on the solo saxophone. The song sounds uncannily like the 1976 hit “Europa” by the soulful saxophonist Gato Barbieri, who wrote the song “Last Tango” as title song for the soundtrack to the great 1972 Marlon Brando film “Last Tango in Paris,” for which Brando was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. Senese is a human amalgram. The tortured product of an African-American G. I. father, James Smith, from the Bronx, whom he’d never met, and a Neapolitan mother, Ana Senese, he has felt the sting of racism his entire life. Rather than respond with bitterness, he pours his feelings into his music.

Born during the twilight days of the great war, his spirit still burns with the anguish of his dual racial identity, yet his heart belongs to Napoli. His music is a fusion of Neapolitan spirit and American soul. A devotee of John Coltrane, his playing brims with unbridled passion.

We meet Naple’s most celebrated singer and actress Angela Luce, not as the legendary artists that she is, but in the guise of a street-walker. Sastri has walked across the world’s most diverse stages, from street theatre to the most famed concert halls. More than 100 of her performances are kept in the Historical Archives of Neapolitan Songs. She has acted alongside Italy’s legends, such as Marcello Mastroianni and taken direction from Italian cinematic greats Visconti and Zeffirelli. Her voice, tone and physical bearing express the deepest longings of her people.

The most charismatic voice is that of Raiz, a solo singer whose music embodies the melodies and rhythms of Mediterranean, Asian and Neapolitan cultures. His music is a blend of trip-hop, dub and world music that is very personal and biting. His music is also a metaphor for modern Naples as a meeting place for all that is foreign and all that is so peculiar to Naples. As he expresses in an on-camera interview, “to be from Naples is to be from nowhere and to belong everywhere.”

Turturro appears sporadically in the film, but not as the traditional narrator or on-camera presenter. He becomes part of the action, dancing in the streets and singing with the locals, swept up in the feeling of the moment in the song “Caravan Petrol.”

“Passione” is a film that speaks directly from the heart and soul of a people and the place which they love. It lives up to its name!

“PASSIONE” has its U.S. Theatrical Premiere, Wednesday, June 22 at the Film Forum, Houston Street, New York City and will roll out over the summer in selected cities. Check local listings for theatres and dates. In Chicago, check the Gene Siskel Film Center’s website for possible showtimes in July at

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