Passione: A Musical Adventure (Beta Cinema, NR)

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film Passione_75Passione may be best regarded as the film equivalent of a mix tape that appreciates equally well a mega-cheesy booty-shaking rap number and a heartfelt performance by a jazz musician.


film Passione_500

Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has seen quite a bit during its 2800-year history. It lies between two volcanic fields (the more famous of which includes Mt. Vesuvius) and as a port city has been a crossroads and battleground for millennia, resulting in a rich cultural blend of influences, including Greek, African, French, Arab, Spanish and American. It’s also become famous in recent years as a center of corruption and organized crime, as highlighted in Matteo Garrone’s 2008 feature Gomorrah.

All these influences are reflected in Neapolitan music, which is the primary subject of John Turturro’s fascinating and unconventional documentary, Passione. The heart of the film are 23 songs, many performed in a series of dramatic set pieces resembling nothing so much as music videos without the MTV-style whiplash. The city streets are featured in many of these stagings, giving you a nice little travelogue along with your music; some are absolutely brilliant while the rest are at least interesting. Turturro pops up every now and then, but his presence is much less intrusive than, say, Ry Cooder’s in Buena Vista Social Club. Unlike Cooder, Turturro understands that he’s not the show and mostly steps back to let us enjoy a variety of spirited performances and interviews, along with some discussion of history and clips of vintage performances.

Above all, this is a film with lots of spirit, and that’s a perfect match to what Turturro believes is the dominant emotional tenor ofNaples. Nothing is middle-of-the-road here: It’s heartbreaking passion or riotous humor, and always performed at full throttle. If your knowledge of Neapolitan song is limited to “Funiculi, Funicula” and “Caro Mio Ben,” you really owe it to yourself to check out the great variety of music Turturro presents in this film.

Sometimes it’s hard to follow where the film is going, and sometimes you wish you had a bit more context (what does “Pistol-Packing Mama” have to do with newsreel scenes of breadlines and delousing, the latter apparently dating from World War II?), but for the most part, Passione is thoroughly enjoyable. Besides, with so much variety on offer, there’s almost certain to be something to please any and all tastes. Passione may be best regarded as the film equivalent of a mix tape created by someone who can appreciate equally well a mega-cheesy booty-shaking rap number and a heartfelt performance of the title tune by a jazz musician whose father was an African-American GI, and who also has time to listen to three old guys debate who was the greater singer, Enrico Caruso or Fernando de Lucia. | Sarah Boslaugh

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