Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2005



Films set in Naples    (also see the entry on "Neo-Realism")

What follows is certainly not an exhaustive list. I have simply listed 19 films that I have seen and consider worthwhile for one reason or another. That is, if I were to start a collection of films set in Naples, I would include these. (In cases where a film has been mentioned elsewhere within this encyclopedia, highlighted titles or names link to those sections. Also, I have not included any film in the vast repertoire of the Neapolitan Sceneggiata. Click here for a separate item on that.) 


(The first four films are marked "NR" to indicate "Neo-Realism" and are also listed separately in that entry.)










In chronological order:


Paisà   (Paisan,  1946, dir. Roberto Rossellini)    (NR)
One of the great films of postwar Italian Neorealism. It is an "episode" film with six vignettes, all focusing on the relationship between the recently liberated Italians and their American liberators. The most popular vignette seems to be one that takes place in Naples.

Sciuscià  (Shoe Shine, 1947, dir. Vittorio de Sica)      (NR)
Another classic of Neorealist cinema. It deals with the lives of the scugnizzi, Neapolitan street children at the end of WW II. The title, itself, is the local pronunciation of the word "shoe shine"—which is how many such children tried to grind out a living.

Napoli Milionaria  (Naples Millionaire, 1950, dir. Eduardo de Filippo)      (NR)
Anything by the great playwright De Filippo is about Naples and worth seeing. This is his own screenplay from his own stage play. He stars in it, as well, as a Neapolitan streetcar conductor involved in other people's problems.


L'Oro di Napoli  (The Gold of Naples, 1954, dir. V. DeSica)        (NR)
Based on the book by Marotta, this is another episode film and easily the most popular one among Neapolitans themselves. Various sides of Neapolitan culture are presented, all of them worth laughing and thinking about. Stars the great comic, Totò, Sofia Loren, De Sica, himself, and Eduardo De Filippo, who gives his infamous demonstration on the proper way to render the rude, hand-blown "pernacchio" ("raspberry"—shown on film poster, above.).


Tarantella Napoletana   (1954, dir. Camillo Mastrocinque) 
This was only the second color film made in Italy. It was billed as a "musical" on the level of the "great American musical comedies." Small difference: this one has no story at all. It's still worth seeing, though, since it is a very well-done selection of choreographed songs about Naples.


Miseria e nobiltà (Misery and Nobility, 1954, dir. Mario Mattoli )
A film version of a well-known play from 1888 by Eduardo Scarpetta, master of the slapstick farce. He created the character of the likable scatterbrain, Felice Sciosciammocca, played here by Totò. The film also features the young Sophia Loren. The plot involves poverty-stricken Felice and his friend, don Pasquale, masquerading as aristocratic relatives of a young woman in order to get her parents approval for a marriage to a young prince.


La banda degli onesti (Honest crooks, 1956, dir.C. Mastrocinque)
Hilarious film about three average Joes who decide to become counterfeiters. Stars Totò, Peppino de Filippo, and Giacomo Furia. The scene of the three of them using a children's "count-out rhyme" to see who has to try to cash their first phony banknote is worth the price of admission.


La sfida (The Challenge, 1958,  Francesco Rosi)
Hard-hitting, it was the first of the films about the Mafia and crooked politicians. It won a prize at the 1958 Venice Film Festival in spite of pressure not to screen it.

La baia di Napoli  (It started in Naples, 1960, dir. Melville Shavelson)
Stars
Sophia Loren and Clark Gable. Romantic comedy about falling in love on Capri.  Absolute fluff and absolutely delightful. Contains one of the most popular Italian songs of the last 50 years, "Tu vuo' fa' l'Americano" (roughly: "You try so hard to be an American").


Matrimonio all'italiana (Marriage, Italian Style, 1964, dir. V. de Sica)
This is de Sica's masterful rendition of Eduardo de Filippo's stage-play, Filumena Maturano, the story of an ingenious ex-prostitute (Sophia Loren) who gets her common-law husband (Marcello Mastroiani) to marry her by revealing to him that he is the father of one of her three sons. To ensure that he treats all three equally, she refuses to tell him which one.

Avanti (1972, dir. Bill Wilder)
The funniest film set in Naples (ok, technically, the island of Ischia) ever made by a non-Italian. It is underrated, but as perfect a comedy, in its own way, as Wilder's great Some Like it Hot. Stars Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills. Secondary roles are magnificent, including Edward Andrews as an obnoxious US diplomat. The original title is the Italian word Avanti, meaning "come in"). That word (in the sense of "Forward") is, however, also the title of the Italian Socialist party newspaper; thus, the Italian release of the film was hobbled by an awful title which translates as "What Happened Between My Father and Your Mother". What can I say? It's still a great film.


Lucky Luciano   (1974, dir. F. Rosi)
Another Rosi film about crime and power. Stars Gian Maria Volentè as the infamous gangster in Naples after being deported from the United States.


Signore e signori, buonanotte  (Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Night, 1976,  dir. Leo Benvenuti and others) 
Relatively unknown abroad, this is an episode film, each one a satire on some aspect of life in Naples. Impressive cast includes Marcello Mastroiani, Ugo Tognazzi, Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi, and Paolo Villaggio. Most memorable scene is of Neapolitan politicians gorging themselves on a gigantic cake made to resemble the bay and city of Naples.


Ricomincio da tre  (1980, Massimo Troisi)
The late Massimo Troisi was the most popular Neapolitan comic since Totò. This was his first hit film. He wrote it, directed it  and starred in it. Essentially, it is about his adventures as he moves from Naples to Florence. The title, "I'm starting at three"  is a pun on  "to start from zero"—"to start over." This is a chance to hone your language skills; Troisi delivers all of his lines in Neapolitan dialect.


La pelle  (The Skin, 1981, dir. Liliana Cavani) 
Based on the book by Curzio Malaparte, the film is a collection of bitter memories about the Allied liberation of Naples. With Burt Lancaster and Marcello Mastroiani.


Cosí parlò Bellavista   (Thus Spake Bellavista, 1984, dir. Luciano De Crescenzo) 
De Crescenzo directs a film based on his own best-selling book. Explores the differences in being from the south and the north in Italy, one of De Crescenzo's favorite topics. He is, at the moment, the most popular living writer from Naples and has authored a number of quirky, humorous "histories of philosophy" for Everyman.


'O Re (The King, 1988, dir. Luigi Magni) A good film for those interested in the history of the risorgimento—the movement to unify Italy in the 19th century—and the ultimate defeat of the Bourbon dynasty that had ruled the Kingdom of Naples. Giancarlo Giannini plays the last king, Francis II (known as "Franceschiello"), the likable weakling never meant to rule; Ornella Muti plays his German-born queen, Maria Sofia, the "heroine of Gaeta." The film follows them briefly during their exile in Rome after the fall of the kingdom. A remarkable film score by Nicola Piovani.


Io speriamo che me la cavo (Ciao, Professore! 1993, dir. Lina Wertmuller)
A brilliant performance by Paolo Villaggio as a northern grade-school teacher who winds up in the Neapolitan outback. He learns to understand the dialect and, most importantly, to understand the lives of his impoverished school children. The film is based on a series of real grade-school essays by local pupils--thus the grammatical error in the title.


Ferdinando e Carolina (1999,  L. Wertmuller)
The film is, in Wertmueller's words, a "libertine comedy" about a very unfunny period in the history of the Kingdom of Naples, the period before the French Revolution when the young, oafish, and virile Ferdinand IV was running around the woods hunting while his very able and ruthless wife, Caroline of Hapsburg, was making plans to run the kingdom.



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