ROME – It took an Italian-American to capture with such force the soul and above all, the suffering and joyful body of Neapolitan music. It took an actor and a filmmaker like John Turturro, talented partner of the Coen Brothers and Spike Lee but also director of always very physical and at the same time playfully eccentric movies, to make such a free – hence risky – journey in such a rich and infinite musical tradition.
Lastly, it took the most beautiful voices in the world, from Mina to Peppe Barra, from the Portuguese Misia to Raiz from Almamegretta, from Sergio Bruni to Pietra Montecorvino or the Tunisian M'Barka Ben Taleb, to give back to Naples what the world owes it, which is a lot, and not only from the musical viewpoint, as one can see in Passione, the captivating movie by Turturro which opens on Friday after the triumphant welcome in Venice. We must wish this movie a great success because of the pleasure it gives and of the intelligence, the attention, the catching enthusiasm it shows.
It is precisely because Turturro is not from Naples (though he involved in his journey a journalist from "Il Mattino" who knows the city thoroughly, Federico Vacalebre, who is also co-writer of the movie), that his discovery of this world becomes ours as well. It is his curiosity which leads him to take these songs literally, as they deserve, and he stages them as the old Neapolitan melodrama did. However, he inserted each song in a body before a voice in a place which is its extension and reason d"être.
And then there is the sublime duet between Peppe Servillo and Misia (Era de maggio), which is almost unbearable due to the strength with which their vibrant close-ups chase the singing. And then Massimo Ranieri and Lina Sastri bring Totò and his first wife back to life. This is the woman for whom the prince de Curtis wrote Màlafemmena. Then we see Pietra Montecorvino turning Commefacette mammeta in a threatening and moving reprimand while a choir of modern Bacchants throws itself about with pagan wildness on the monumental staircases of Palazzo dello Spagnuòlo. And Don Alfonso from the restaurant with the same name recites "Guaglione" without music with his face as Indian chief which is an orchestra in itself.
Without forgetting History, clearly, which is concentrated in never obvious repertoire songs. However, it runs on the faces of the three old Esposito brothers who are record industrialists and custodians of memories. He, too remains spellbound like us in listening to Fausto Cigliano singing "Catari" among the Caravaggio"s paintings of Pio Monte della Misericordia. Before flying away on the wings of a new song and a new choreography, between alleys and squares, past and present, greatness and misery. With the joy of a person exploring all feelings, from scream to whisper and the freedom of the person who discovers everything, even coffee, as if it were for the first time.