“There are places you go to and once is enough. And then there’s Napoli,” says the actor/director John Turturro, as we gaze at the weathered cityscape of Naples.
Turturro’s clearly in love with the Italian city and its music, and he shares that with us in his first documentary. Loosely structured as a sort of musical travelogue, with 23 song performances interwoven, it’s as passionate as the singers it showcases, enveloping the viewer in the soulful music it celebrates.
Most of the performances are outdoors in Naples, with the singers strolling through graffiti-laden courtyards or beautifully crumbling carvings, as if they’re moving through the song and traveling with it. Some of the songs are translated (with subtitles) and some are not, but it doesn’t really matter; the fervor of the voices pours out like lava from a volcano.
Vesuvio, performed in front of its namesake, is sung with molten urgency by Monica Pinto with the band Spakka-Neapolis 55. The saxophone player James Senese, caught in blue light, lets the blues flow like water. Angela Luca, a legendary Neapolitan singer and actress, smolders in an archival clip, while an observer explains that he likes “the way her nostrils flare.” (Indeed, they do.)
Passione has an irresistibly leisurely feel to it, following the unhurried pace of the singers who give every note its moment. By its end, you just might fall in love with Naples yourself, or at least be intrigued by its history (the city’s many cultural influences are the result, Turturro says, of numerous invasions) and music.
“Despite everything,” the director says in the final frames, “people are still singing.” And then he turns and gets swept into a seemingly impromptu dance in an alley, as if such a thing happens all the time in Naples. Maybe it does.
Director: John Turturro.
Producers: Alessandra Acciai, Carlo Macchitella, Giorgio Magluilo.
Running time: 90 minutes. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Cosford.