Passione in Napoli

Passione, a film by John Turturro, explores Naples and its dynamic musical heritage.  I viewed the documentary at a screening sponsored by the InterAmerican Development Bank in Washington, DC, part of “Italy @ 150” celebrating the 150th anniversary year of Italian unification.  The year long program was organized by the Smithsonian Institution. The multi-venue cultural celebration started on March 17, 2011, the 150th anniversary of Il Risorgimento.

Released in 2010, Passione was praised by critics, but is unlikely to appear in the local cineplex. The scenes can be gritty and emotionally charged, which can unnerve the bourgeoisie.  Too bad — we could all use a dose of the resilience, chaos and and life embracing realism of Naples.   “Singing is emotional transportation,” says John Tutturro, during this documentary that strings together the many cultural influences on Neapolitan song and performance style.  

Tutturro’s film captures the Baroque facades of Neapolitan churches, the splashes of graffiti and faces etched by smiles and worries.  The director encourages folks on the street to sing songs that typify the culture, then cuts to longer versions by professional singers rendering the same material.  Clips of U.S. soldiers who arrived during World War II as an occupying army that stayed for decades explains some of the multi-ethnic gene pool of Napoli and its music.  Greeks, Arabs, Berbers, Slavs, Visigoths, Spaniards, Celtic-Scandinavian  Normans, French, African-Americans are some of the musical ancestors.  The people’s music of Napoli characterizes a world city, a delicious mix of cultures and sensuality.