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Friday, 09 December 2011 01:00

'Passione' Expresses Passion for Neapolitan Music
Written by Diane Carson
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Passione is director/writer/actor John Turturro's loving tribute to the music of Naples, or Napoli as he accurately calls it. Eclectic in his taste, Turturro stages 23 songs, similar to music videos but with less frantic editing. He strings them together with brief observations by him or by Neapolitans with no apparent organizational thread, though each song is sufficiently entertaining.

Turturro provides breathing room between numbers with shots of captivating faces and beautiful old Neapolitan buildings. Periodically and quite superficially, he uses archival footage to contextualize the musical influences of, for example, post-WWII American occupation, the considerable operatic tradition, and Middle Eastern, especially Moroccan, styles. One brief discussion between two men contrasts Fernando de Lucia of the 1800s with Enrico Caruso. Another group of men identify their favorite singer, and after three of the six name Sergio Bruni, a wonderfully filmed, old black-and-white performance by Bruni follows.

However, colorful contemporary music dominates, staged in diverse locations: in town squares, on street corners, in side streets, at the seashore, in a prison, a nightclub, and at an outdoor market. Topics are equally varied, while predictable: love, motherhood, infidelity, longing, regret, etc. Turturro says that the music expresses the essential components of the Neapolitan character. He explains it is immersed in contradiction and paradox, hiding anger, despair and sadness behind a happy, amusing mask.

It takes some effort to see this with the kaleidoscopic choices here, a "Turturro's favorites" more than an informative snapshot, though several brief stories add flavor. For example, the government taxed singers 3% more than actors, singers started telling stories around songs, saying they were actors to avoid the extra tax. African-American/Italian sax player James Senese explains he never met his American soldier father and describes prejudice he faced in Naples.

Turturro clearly wants to entertain a conventional audience, focusing often on sexy women in various numbers. But Passione does convey his enthusiasm for Neapolitan music and may make some converts along the way. In English and Italian, most of the time with English subtitles though not for all the songs, which I wish he'd done. At a Landmark Theater.

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