Apollo’s Girl

Passione: It’s Really Hot!

When John Turturro says, at the beginning of his new film Passione, “There are places that you go to and once is enough. And then there’s Napoli…” he’s only slyly whetting your appetite for what follows:

Passione is his cinematic love letter to a city which has survived invasions from all over the compass, made music of them, and simply never learned the concept of giving up. So you’ll recognize the sounds of North Africa, India, Arabia, and a few former colonial powers in Europe.

With aerial shots of Naples (don’t forget Mt. Vesuvius!) and 24 musical numbers sung, acted, and danced by a crowd of talents in constant motion, you are snatched up for a trip that no travel agent could book. But the deliciously gritty mise en scene focuses more on the old alleyways and mini-piazzas that make up the core of the city, and on the life force that unites the performers you meet there.

Turturro calls Passione “a true collaboration between me, the performers, the director of cinematography, Marco Pontecorvo, and the mama of the film, our editor, Simona Paggi.” That’s an understatement, because Paggi knows not only just when to make a cut, or to extend a moment, but how to create a phenomenal program out of the 24 musical numbers, which flow (despite their endless variety) in a pulsing cascade of pure energy and power. If you want O Solo Mio, it’s there, but along with 22 other pieces you’ve probably never heard (and will pine to hear again), plus a version of Pistol-Packin’ Mama I guarantee you will never forget. And a dance number, Caravan Petrol, shot in the desert, featuring the gyrations of Fiorello, Max Casella, and Turturro himself, plus one very perplexed mule.

There are plenty of archival stills for verismo, plus footage of the 1930s, and the 1940s, when Allied troops put an end to the Mussolini era and were welcomed by a weary population more than ready for the next chapter in the Neopolitan story. It anchors the beginning and the end of the film, resonating with contemporary scenes that make it clear the story will continue. But the music, the characters, and the love are what make it all go. (Until mid-August at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Lincoln Center) Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center

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