MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

TIFF Review: Passione

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of John Turturro‘s Passione, which is screening at TIFF in the Special Presentations category, but I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised by this engaging, colorful, music-drenched journey into the musical culture of Naples.

The documentary is about as non-traditional structurally as one could imagine (and I mean that in a good way). Turturro uses stunning musical numbers — think of them as very artsy, smart music videos of Napoli musical history — to explore the complex city’s rich musical culture. If you are completely ignorant of Naples, as I pretty much am, the film is a crash course in a fascinating culture overflowing with passion.

Turturro uses a wide array of musical performances in the film; past and contemporary artists including Sergio Bruni, Massimo Ranieri and Renata Carasonni (representing the Masters) and M’Barka Ben Taleb and James Senese (on-hand for the contemporaries), interspersed with regular folks singing on the streets (and a lot of them, even, have good voices … I was certainly impressed).

The musical numbers are beautifully staged; the music ranges from deeply moving love songs to humorous ditties to deeply political folk songs, and all of it reflects a people and a place that’s diverse for being occupied by so many cultures, and yet unique in its own personality.

A couple of the songs were real standouts for me (and I’m sorry I don’t have the titles so you can go look them up): One of the first songs in the film has two artists, a man and a woman, singing passionately about love and loss as they circle each other, even embrace while singing; another love song, we were told, was written by the artist to his wife, who left him after years of infidelity. I was also impressed by artist James Senese, so much so that I looked him up and bought some of his music for my iPod after the screening.

The film opens with a trio of aging recorded music vets who guide us through the colorful history of Napoli music as they argue, talk over and cajole each other and share with us their vast base of knowledge.

Also along to guide us — and provide some levity when needed — is Turturro, whose love and passion for the Italian culture is evident in every frame of the film. Turturro, who’s always a joy to watch on-screen, uses the city itself as his canvas, showing us the bedrooms, the alleyways, the public squares, the people, and the architecture to add texture to these stories told through song.

Passione is a love letter to a culture, a poetic journey through a history that includes the children fathered by American vets during the occupation following the Second World War, a people and a culture captured in the microcosm of music, all interwoven with the beauty of Naples as a city, both in its wealth and its poverty.

Turturro captures the essence of a culture in the same way that the songs themselves do — by sharing with us how the Napoli people live their lives, what values they hold dear, the way they live, love, fight and make love. It’s a lovely, original, fascinating film with a very arthouse feel, and richly satisfying to watch, particularly if you, as I, love music.

5 Responses to “TIFF Review: Passione”

  1. Alessandro says:

    As a son of Neapolitan immigrants to the U.S., I have a great passion for the culture of Naples. The music is such an integral aspect of the culture of Naples and they has been a part of an international musical repetoire for over a century thanks to the greats like, Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti. Naples’ cultural patrimony has long been ignored and thanks to John Turturro it has been revived. I hope people go see this film and take back a better understanding of the rich culture of Naples.

  2. Carmela Circelli says:

    I too, a daughter of Neopolitan immigrants, was blow away by John Turturro’s Passione. I was ’emotionally transported’ and soulfully moved by such an original and beautiful presentation of much of the music I grew up with. I feel like I have always been waiting for this movie. I loved it.
    C.

  3. teresa formato says:

    When & where will this film be shown in New York? I’m dying to see it!

  4. fzzzzzzz says:

    Renato Carosone, not Renata Carasonni!

  5. Vivian Acerbo says:

    I also would like to know when this film (Passione) will
    be shown in the New York City area.
    Thank you,
    VIVIAN

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin