As Americans (and by extension immigrants, no matter when our ancestors happened to come here), we seem perpetually fascinated by our roots. Perhaps by exploring where one comes from, one can get the sharpest sense of who one is and where one is going. This seems to be the driving spirit behind PASSIONE, the actor/director John Turturro’s wonderful new documentary about the music, culture and passion that permeate Naples, Italy. The film has been touring the international film festival circuit since making its world premiere at last year’s Venice Film Festival. It is making its belated New York premiere this week at the Film Forum before opening in other cities around the country.
In a recent interview in the Guardian, the New York-based Turturro (best known for his films DO THE RIGHT THING, BARTON FINK, QUIZ SHOW and OH BROTHER WHERE ARE THOU) described his inspiration and motivation to make this, his third film as a director and his first documentary. “Most of the Italians in New York are from Naples, Sicily and Calabria – the south. Naples itself reminds me a little bit of New York in the 70s, except everyone is crushed together more. It’s so beautiful and so dangerous. It has a brutality, but also a sense of poetry. Neapolitans have their own language and, most importantly, the people are unbelievably musical. The relationship between classical and popular music goes back a long, long time. That’s why I wanted to make a film about the city and its music. If you sing a song on the streets, people will pick right up on it and sing along, whether you’re a good singer or not. If you want to, you can go out on the street and get somebody to dance with you; it’s really not that hard.”
Later in the interview, Turturro describes the origins of his love affair with the city of Naples. “My own introduction to Naples proper came through cinema: I worked with Francesco Rosi on the adaptation of novelist Primo Levi’s THE TRUCE. Through Francesco, I encountered the work of the dramatist Eduardo de Filippo, and acted in a play of his, QUESTI FANTASMI (Three Ghosts), which contained a great deal of Neapolitan music. We took the play to Naples and it was really an experience. The truth is that Naples is a complicated culture, and it comes out in the music.”
Bringing his own unique sense of style was important for his first documentary effort. In the interview, Turturro describes the evolution of the film. “We started out shooting a straight documentary but, as we went along, we realized we were making a musical adventure. Our aim was to make something along the lines of the BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB. As I say in the film, music is emotional transportation – it’s food for the soul. Doing PASSIONE was fantastic for all of us.” For more information on the film, visit: www.filmforum.org/films/passione.html