The adaptation by Mario Martone of the novel by Ermanno Rea brings the Italian director to Naples current, where he explores the complexity of the return.
Mario Martone’s Moody Drama drama marks a quarter of work for the director – or maybe it is more precise to call him a return. The previous films of the Italian author, such as rehearsals for war and the smell of blood, were greeted for their distinctive style and moral clarity. Martone’s most recent projects – swollen historical stories directed with verbosity – were less welcome.
In nostalgia, an adaptation of the novel by the Neapolitan writer Ermanno Rea, Martone reduces some of his recent fulfillments to deliver a simpler and thriller drama. Running almost two hours, the film could have used an additional fine adjustment – a few versions to help make certain sequences more dynamic. However, with a formidable direction, a guaranteed direction and a skillful camera work, nostalgia turns out to be an surprisingly absorbing film, which could find an audience outside of Italy.
The constraints of nostalgia are essential to its effectiveness. It is not a complex biography fights with the life and the ideas of an important Italian figure. This is a more familiar story, which takes place in contemporary times: after decades abroad, a man returns to his neighborhood in Naples for the closure. Melancholy memories replace him quickly, and he finds himself in love with the place where he swore that he had left. The story contained gives nostalgia a lively objective and clarity. And instead of shooting throughout the city of Naples, Martone narrows the place of the film in a single district: Rione Sanità, a region plagued by poverty and government negligence. It is a site that the director visited in his 2019 film, the mayor of Rione Sanità, and this familiarity permeates this project with crucial intimacy.
The return is an act to meet the old and the new ones at the same time, and Martone’s ability to transmit that the friction is that of the forces of nostalgia. The film begins with Felice Lasco (Pierfrancesco Favino), a 55 -year -old inhibited businessman, returning to Sanità to visit his aging mother, Teresa (Aurora Quattrocchi). The district – where he lived up to 15 years – has changed considerably, but Felice does not recognize him (or does not seem). What he knows is that his mother is partially blind and was led to move to the apartment on the ground floor of the now poorly maintained building. The overwhelming discovery invites Felice to find its new accommodation – a larger apartment with a lemon tree in the garden.
Martone depicts a painful portrait of the physical and temporal distance of a mother and a son, giving us the opportunity to understand part of Felice’s motivations to come back. A particularly moving sequence, involving Felice giving Teresa a bath, testifies to the way their relationship has changed over the years – a mother now at the guard of her son. It is through these scenes that we also understand how much Felice has changed: after crossing Africa with his uncle, he settled in Cairo where he married a woman (about whom little is revealed), launched a prosperous business, the Arab scientist and became a Muslim.
The death of Teresa – sudden, a dramatic – breaks Felice’s relationship with Sanità. He has no real reason to stay, but he doesn’t feel ready to go either. He finds himself walking in the alleys, preventing familiar paths while reliving memories. It is through these flashbacks – that Martone prohibits with the current wandering of Felice – that another reason for the return of our stroller is revealed.
Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno) was one of Felice’s best friends, a truly brother, with whom he crossed the streets of Sanita, swam naked at the beach and hired a small flight. While Felice fled the country after a fatal accident, Oreste remained. Forty years later, he is simply known as Badman, the most dangerous gang leader in the neighborhood. Despite several warnings from current residents, including local priest Don Luigi Rega (played by Francesco di leva), Felice wants to speak to Oreste.
Felice’s memories on the famous gang leader differ from the neighborhood tradition. In his mind, he and Oreste still have a lot in common. It was the teenagers who rolled in Sanità, the boys with a deep fraternal link. However, memories, like nostalgia, can be a trap; Revisit them enough and you risk losing sight of the present. This is what happens in Felice: his weeks in Sanità turns in months, and he finally decides that he wants to buy a house and never leave. An almost translated Pasolini quote that opened the film begins to haunt the Felice movement: “Knowledge lies in nostalgia”.
Indeed, there are lessons to learn from the past, but you must be open to receive them. While Felice gets to know the residents of the New Families district to refugees, he does not seem to shake his interpretation of the past. Favino plays Felice with a calm restraint, a distance that transmits how much Felice is out of contact with himself. We start to feel bad for him, then to get impatient with his confidence and his erroneous insistence.
In the context of Felice’s drama is Sanità, the neighborhood. Martone and DP Paolo Carnera give life to the Neapolitan district, teasing its beauty while suggesting why the city faces high poverty and crime rates. However, I hope that nostalgia has offered more in terms of history, filling the gap between Felice’s memories and current conditions.
Felice and Oreste end up meeting, their crackling meeting with tension. Favino and Ragno both give strong performances as two friends – brothers, really – whose muddy relationship is prey to betrayal and a misunderstanding. They maneuver their big scene with a calm that emphasizes how time and distance have changed (and have not changed) the two men.
What could have used the same level of control is the treatment of Martone’s nostalgia, which is telegraphy at the point of exhaustion. The film is the obsessive way of the theme, investigating its novels and its dangers. But at some point, he begins to feel elliptical and unsatisfactory – a distraction of a perfectly beautiful study of a man struggles with his return.