Passione (John Turturro – 2010)
23 songs shot in 21 days would be the skinniest premise for an otherwise very passionate musical journey by John Turturro into the cultural alleys and pathways of a very special city – Napoli.
I attended the film uptown opening, at The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s new state-of-the-art Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York where the screening also followed a Q&A with actor and director John Turturro (see video clip below). Indeed, a very sleek space that truly deserves its consistent appeal as the “mecca” for cinefiles.
The film opens with a personal introduction by Turturro among other comments peppered throughout the film. Turturro later revealed his narration was an advice he received from Francesco Rosi who also had directed him as Primo Levi in 1997 La Tregua – The Truce. I can’t argue with Maestro Rosi, but personally, I would have preferred to leave this English narration out, as it takes away from the pure authenticity of the spoken Napolitan dialect and music. In those instances, I felt the film unjustly turns into a Travel Channel segment.
Turturro follows a tried-and-true template that was formerly christened by Wim Wenders’s 1999 Buena Vista Social Club with similar ingredients: authentic location, archival footage, and phenomenal homegrown music performed by unknown yet gifted musicians that tell their rough life stories between songs. Someone in the audience later labeled this film as “music neorealism” which I found interesting.
Reggae-styled Nun te scurda’ performed by Almamegretta, Raiz, Pietra Montecorvino & M’Barka Ben Taleb
You will find here some of the classic Neapolitan masterpieces such as Maruzzella by Renato Carosone with a striking performance on Napoli’s beach of all places by Gennaro Cosmo Parlato; O Sole Mio featuring legendary opera singer Enrico Caruso among less known but emotionally charged songs like Passione performed by James Senese. You can totally believe Senese’s bluesy delivery especially when he earlier recounts his challenging childhood in Napoli as a son of a black American solider whom he never met and a local girl.
An interesting anecdote, during my recent vacation to Napa Valley, I made the day for a friendly Napolitan bar tender in a wine tasting room after showing him the song list. So I guess these songs are considered gold standard even by the natives.
The film also includes archival footage from Istituto Luce, showcasing post-World War II Napoli: the people, their hardships, the American liberation and most of all the music as a powerful thread to the present that keep Napolitans alive. From this perspective the songs represent Napoli’s history of being conquered so many times, resulting in an eclectic ethnic collage.
Turturro’s as an Italian-American (half Sicilian half Pugliese) consciously decided not to show the pretty touristic image of Napoli and instead focused more on the evocative Napolitan reality as evidenced by singers and locals. In this sense, the film represents his personal journey into Napoli’s rich musical culture anchored around the past with WWII American liberation and its impact on locals and the present with its eclectic music scene. As such, the film nicely closes an identity loop with a global truth: know where you came from.
The big message the film eloquently delivers is simple. Music unlike any art form is about that special and direct dialog it has with the audience that goes beyond language, manipulative plots, director intent, history or any other external layers. At the end of the day, it’s all about this precious interplay between the audience personal experiences and the music. I found the music fairly contagious, so be ware.
I leave you with the post-screening discussion between Actor and director John Turturro and Italian journalist Andrea Visconti at Lincoln Center: