Passione: movie review
A giddy paean to the soundscape of Naples: Actor John Turturro’s ‘Passione’ documentary is anything but straightforward.
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The great Portuguese fado artist Mísia, who specializes in Neapolitan songs, performs two achingly soulful love ballads. There is also the great Tunisian transplant M’Barka Ben Taleb, with a leonine presence and pipes to match. In one of the film’s giddiest jam sessions, she, singing in Arabic, joins two other artists on a small stage – the other two are Peppe Barra and Benny Fazio (who acted in “The Sopranos”) – as they sing “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”Skip to next paragraph
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This song was brought to Naples during World War II by American GIs, and in their wake a horde of Italo-African-American babies were left behind with their Italian mothers. One such person is vocalist/saxophonist James Senese, who never met his father and, between sinuous sax wails, tells us about being taunted as a “half-breed.”
This is one of the few times in the film when Turturro lets slip the fact that Naples is not all paradise all the time. I suppose he errs in not bringing up the poverty, the corruption, the crime (for that, you’d have to see Matteo Garrone’s dramatic film “Gomorrah”). But we know it’s there without him rubbing our noses in it. Turturro uses our knowledge of Naples’s woes as a given. His film is about how music transcends all that, transmutes it into art.
A bigger fault is that he skimps opera. The great Caruso gets short shrift. But Turturro, in an homage to the past, artfully mixes in old footage of Neapolitan stars like Angela Luce, or Sergio Bruni singing “O Sole Mio,” which is given a rousing update by Massimo Ranieri and Taleb.
He also interviews a garrulous local chef, who, with very little prompting, sings a few bars from a song his mother sang to him as a boy. In that instant, this 67-year-old man is once again that boy.