Review of Passione

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John Turturro takes a look at the musical roots and traditions of Naples, Italy, as well as its influence on the rest of the world.
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Movie Review: "Passione"

-- Rating: UR (Unrated)
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: Oct. 22, 2010
Directed by: John Turturro
Genre: History and Music

The documentary drama "Passione" was filmed on location in Naples, Italy. Directed by John Turturro, it follows the intriguing Neapolitan musical heritage by examining the Canzone Napoletana tradition and the influencing factors of African, European, and Arabic cultures. The film uses both ensembles and solo performances by some of the most influential performers in the city. These contemporary performers include Rosario Fiorello, Mina, Peppe Barra, and others. Other historical artists of the city such as Sergio Bruni, Renato Carosone, Enrico Caruso, and others are also chronicled.

While the documentary might be described as a tribute to soul music of Naples' artists, this description could be confusing because, traditionally, soul music is associated with the African-American music of the 1960s. At the same time, the genre and style of the songs produced by these artists can also be classified as soul music, reflecting the downsides of trying to restrict music styles to certain cultures.

One thing that is not confusing in "Passione" is the sensuality that it presents. The characters ooze raw emotion mixed with ecstasy and heartbreak. This is clearly a testimony to the tribulations and injustices that often faces poverty-stricken artists, and indeed all other people. Even artists outside the Neapolitan enclave will readily identify with this analysis. This is so because most problems facing artists are not confined to certain cultures or regions.

At the beginning of the movie, Turturro is shown facing the camera delivering an ode to Neapolitan music and its rich legacy. The ode is delivered in a manner similar to a delivery one would expect from a tourist video. He relishes the prospect of visiting Napoli again and again. He says that there are places one would be content to visit once, but Napoli is clearly not one of them. Then follows a romantic and free-spirited exploration of the city, an exploration that lets art speak for itself instead of being narrated by a man.

Just like other forms of conventional documentaries, the movie incorporates interviews with different musicians. The interviews are used to discuss each musicians heritage and the different lyrics of songs that have been sung through the ages. Luckily, Turturro does not make the movie boring by presenting a series of interviews back to back. He interlaces them with beautiful and feisty rhythms and elegies that represent the temperament of the region.

Those who love Neapolitan music will obviously love the documentary, but less knowledgeable viewers are sure to love it too. It uses a whopping 23 songs derived from different contexts and traditions, and it is unlikely that a person may not find at least one of these songs that speaks to the soul. All of the songs featured in the film can be considered great by different standards, but some of them undoubtedly stand out. For example, Al Dexter's delivery of "Pistol Packing Mama" is very memorable as it uses classic rock to portray examples of racial oppression. This amalgamation is delivered in a flawless manner and one almost gets the feeling "Passione" is a concert movie. North American viewers will identify with "O Sole Mio," which is performed thrice in the documentary film (once by the celebrated Tunisian actress M'Barka Ben Taleb and twice by Italian artists).

Most of scenes in this movie speak for themselves. Many of the wonderful performances are delivered on the cobblestone streets of Napoli and are cosmopolitan in that they include musical numbers that are not Italian in origin. Musical numbers are performed in Arabic, Spanish, French, and other languages. Fortunately, they are mostly delivered with subtitles so even those who do not have firm grasps of the respective languages will find these scenes interesting to watch. It can also be argued that art transcends language barriers and one does not have to understand the language of a musical number to enjoy it.

Turturro's rapturous documentary is well structured and beautifully photographed. Its musical presentations feature numbers going back to the 13th century. The invasion of Naples by different foreign powers such as France, Spain, and Arabs is also dealt with in the movie. Other problems Italy has dealt with in the past such as volcanoes, crime, wars, and neglect are also mentioned in passing. Turturro obviously shot the film on location because he believes that the music of a place is representative of the culture and history of a people.

This documentary was made attentively, and even those who have no knowledge of Neapolitan music and culture will love it. Misia's songs, for example, are heartfelt and delivered with emotion. The biography of James Senese is also very touching. All in all, the documentary is very well made.

Rating: 4 out of 5