Alex is a freelance movie critic who specializes in writing about classic Hollywood movies from the 1920s, ’30s & ’40s. He has his own film blog and he writes about film and other topics for Third Coast Review. He’ll also be reviewing new DVD releases for us. Here’s his first.
Having never received a U.S. theatrical release, Kino Lorber and Rarovideo will be distributing Abel Ferrara’s Napoli, Napoli, Napoli (2009) on Blu-ray for the first time, available July 12.
Ferrara, best known in America for the controversial Bad Lieutenant (1992) starring Harvey Keitel as a crooked New York City police officer, takes the same gritty, hard-hitting approach with this docudrama showing a side of Italy, Naples in particular, most Americans never get to see.
The movie blends real-life interviews of various women in prison, arrested mostly for dealing drugs, with two fictional stories concerning prostitution and mob violence, painting a portrait of a city filled with social injustice and economic poverty. The question becomes, can you tell when the fiction begins and where it ends?
Napoli, Napoli, Napoli is not a rabble rouser, in the style of a Michael Moore documentary, but it will get under your skin as you hear about the variant social conditions, political corruption and mafia influence that tears a city apart between the haves and havenots.
In fact, watching Ferrara’s movie, it is not difficult to think of Michael Moore and his most recent documentary, Where To Invade Next? (2016). Moore went to Italy to show Americans the advantages Italian workers have including more vacation days and up to one-hour lunch breaks but Moore never went to Naples and it is easy to see why. The movie may be called Napoli, Napoli, Napoli but there’s no reason why it couldn’t just as easily be called America, America, America or Chicago, Chicago, Chicago as the same issues are prevalent here.
The best moments in the film are the documentary material, when we get to hear from the people on the streets as they discuss the conditions in which they live. Their stories are heartfelt as we can relate to their problems. Ferrara also inserts archive footage of old news and television programming speaking of the bright future that lies ahead of Naples, especially with affordable housing, as it is juxtaposed against how things are today. Sometimes the effect is comical as Ferrara also has popular Italian songs, sung by Dean Martin (singing about how romantic Italy is) played over images of homes destroyed.
Ferrara and his film are also not shy about commenting on the role America played after World War II in Naples, which caused the city’s decline and rise in poverty, since it was the most-bombed Italian city during the war.
Some of the weakest moments in the film are the scripted scenes. One story-line involving the mafia and cocaine is particularly poor. The moment we see these people on-screen it is apparent they are actors. They deliver their lines too theatrically and seem too aware of a camera being on them. However scenes involving a young girl being forced to work as a prostitute and her gambling addict father are powerful. You may not initially know these are actors. There is a naturalistic quality to their performances.
There will naturally be those who claim Napoli, Napoli, Napoli is not a fair representation of Naples. There are many beautiful and safe neighborhoods where families do not worry about their children encountering drugs, the mafia or prostitution. That may very well be true but is it a fair representation to only comment on those neighborhoods and ignore everyone else?
At its best, Napoli, Napoli, Napoli gives us names and faces to continuing social and economic issues being faced by people all over the world. For that it is worth watching.
The Blu-ray comes with a fully illustrated booklet. The special features include the original trailer and a making-of documentary. In Italian with English subtitles.