Mario Martone, the filmmaker who revisits the anti

Posted Jan 3, 2023, 4:44 PMUpdated Jan 3, 2023, 5:18 PM

The walls of Naples ooze nostalgia. Forty years. What is four decades in the life of a mafia boss who has devoted his life to organized crime? A blink of an eyelash, the space of a heartbeat? But the heart, by definition, the clan leader does not have one. He slips through the streets of Rione Sanità, reputed to be the most dangerous district of Naples until recently, like a ghost, a puppet that does not belong to him.

“Nostalgia”, the latest film by the Neapolitan filmmaker, Mario Martone, initially chosen to represent Italy in the race for the Oscars, is not a traditional “mafia film”. But the shadow of the Camorra hovers from end to end. In the central scene of the reunion between Orestes, the boss prisoner of his addictions, and his childhood friend nostalgic for the passing of time, the first coward that “the past does not exist”, a phrase inspired by the confessions of Saint Augustine. “There is no past or future; only the present is, but it only lasts a moment”.

Hunter of emotions and scenes of ordinary life

“The past is a sum of errors that it is better not to revisit”, summarizes the Neapolitan filmmaker, Mario Martone, who signs his twelfth film in thirty years. Here, a mature man who had to emigrate to Lebanon, then to Egypt, following a trauma – played by Pierfrancesco Favino, the multi-award-winning Roman actor since his remarkable performances in “Romanzo Criminale” by Michele Placido and in “The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio -, returns to his hometown, after forty years of absence, to cross paths with an old adolescent companion who gave in to the temptations of crime.

From “Death of a Neapolitan mathematician”, his first film shot in 1992, to “Mayor of Rione Sanità”, in 2019, passing by “Love bruised” (1995), taken from Elena’s first novel Ferrante, Mario Martone walks his camera through the streets of Naples without compromising with social reality. The camera on the shoulder, like a hunter of emotions and scenes of ordinary life.

Mario Martone, here in Paris last December, signs his twelfth film in thirty years. Rüdy Waks for Les Echos Weekend

Less known in France than his compatriots, the Neapolitan Paolo Sorrentino or the Roman Nanni Moretti, Mario Martone, who is also an accomplished theater and lyric opera director, has always refused to sacrifice fashion or ease. . Since his first film, Mario Martone has never really strayed from his native city, the city where “disenchantment can suddenly turn around, reverse itself, to become an enchantment”.

In thirty years of career, the Neapolitan filmmaker – best known for his film “The bruised love” or his very personal biopic on the poet Leopardi (“Il Giovane Favoloso”) -, has rarely dealt with Naples’ relations with organized crime . The scenario of “Nostalgia” is inspired by the novel of the same name by the Neapolitan writer, Ermanno Rea, inspired by real events and published a few months after the death of its author, in 2016.

For Mario Martone, the objective was to immerse himself in the most sensitive district of Naples, the beating heart of the city where the opposing clans stare. It is in this same district, and also on the slopes of Vesuvius, that Mario Martone had already filmed “The Godfather of the Sanità district” (2019), a modern transposition of the play by Eduardo De Filippo on the struggle between honest people and scoundrels».

For the director Mario Martone, the objective was to immerse himself in the most sensitive district of Naples, the beating heart of the city where the opposing clans stare.

For the director Mario Martone, the objective was to immerse himself in the most sensitive district of Naples, the beating heart of the city where the opposing clans stare. Mario Spada

Immersion in the neighborhood of Sanitá

Here, there is no question of erecting the godfathers into all-powerful barons of the Corleone clan as with Francis Ford Coppola. Unlike Cosa Nostra, the Neapolitan Camorra, the oldest mafia in Italy, claims its urban origins and does not hide behind any veneer of honor. Born in the revolutionary period to protect the people from the abuses of the Neapolitan elites and the Parthenopean Republic of 1799, it owes its rebirth to the great earthquake of 1980 and the explosion of cocaine trafficking.

One of the strongest scenes in “Nostalgia” is when the priest Don Luigi – directly inspired by a real character well known to the inhabitants of Naples, Don Antonio Loffredo – decides to celebrate mass in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria della Sanità, against the advice of the prefect, following the violent death of a young man from the neighborhood. One thinks of the famous harangue of Pope John Paul II against the mafia and the other “occult forces”, pronounced in the open air, in Agrigento, Sicily, in 1993.

For Mario Martone, “Nostalgia” is not a film about Naples, but a film about this forbidden enclave of Rione Sanità, far from the sea, this fascinating popular ghetto, where poverty has long rubbed shoulders with culture with its incredible heritage of Greek remains, catacombs and presbyteries. It is also the favorite neighborhood of Toto, Italy’s most beloved tragicomic actor.

Even more than the Camorra, it is this “off limits” labyrinth little known to tourists where the Neapolitans themselves hardly dared to venture until recently that the filmmaker wanted to film “as if it were a game of chess. Hand-held camera, we walked the streets as if it were a documentary film » explains Mario Martone. La Sanità is a kind of outskirts inside the city. It has long been a somewhat abandoned place within the very heart of the ancient city, which reinforces its magical side. »

Reconnect with the anti-mafia film

In “Nostalgia”, by making a central figure of the anti-Camorra priest who succeeded in restoring hope and creative impetus to young people in the neighborhood, the Neapolitan filmmaker also revives a certain Italian tradition of “anti-Mafia film”. Far from the magnificent barons of Coppola or Scorsese, the “Malommo”, the mafia boss inspired by a famous homonymous boss from the north of Naples who died in 2017, is more like a pathetic psychopath with the look of a drugged and filthy thug. The real heroes are rather the young people of the neighborhood federated by an intrepid priest to save them from falling into the nets of the Camorra.

“The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio tells the story of Tommaso Buscetta, whose revelations allowed Judge Falcone to fight against Cosa Nostra.

“The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio tells the story of Tommaso Buscetta, whose revelations allowed Judge Falcone to fight against Cosa Nostra.CHRISTOPHEL COLLECTION

We are at the antipodes of the atmosphere of the saga of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Padrino” which maintained a form of fascination for the myth of a golden age of the aristocratic mafia, including in the eyes of the real barons of Cosa Nostra, since its release in 1972. In his own way, Mario Martone falls more in the wake of Francesco Rosi, the heir to neo-realism, the author of “Main Basse sur la Ville” (1963), one of the most powerful films on the influence of the Camorra on Naples, ten years before its “Lucky Luciano”, mythical figure of the Italian-American mafia.

“I have always believed in the function of cinema as a denunciator and witness to reality, and as a medium for stories in which children can get to know their fathers and learn from them”, said Francesco Rosi in 1995. In his wake, most Italian filmmakers have never ceased to want to deconstruct the aura of the “Octopus” magnified by Hollywood, with its anti-heroes and its old-fashioned godfathers.

The upsurge of an urban ghetto

Fifteen years after the shock of “Gomorrah” by Matteo Garrone (2008), the first great Italian film, taken from the “bestseller” by Roberto Saviano to crudely describe the violence and practices of the Camorra in a hyper-realistic way, Mario Martone offers his own version of the city with two faces, one where legality and illegality coexist closely. While he admires the strength of the “Gomorrah phenomenon”, which has “gave birth to a new kind » in his eyes, Mario Martone is undoubtedly closer to the intimate writing of his compatriots Marco Bellocchio (“The Traitor”) or Gianni Amelio (“Il Dolce e l’Amaro”).

Like “The Traitor” by Bellocchio, Based on the real-life story of one of the earliest repentants in Sicilian mafia history, Tommaso Buscetta, the man who denounced Sicilian godfather Toto Riina (see below), ‘Nostalgia’ deviates from the clichés traditional mafia films. It even fits into the register of the “anti-mafia film”, where the psychological drama prevails over the springs of a certain fascination for the milieu. “It’s not a film about the Camorra, even if you can see a connection with “Main basse sur la Ville”. The central theme is more that of betrayed friendship.insists the co-screenwriter of the film, Ippolita Di Majo.

Halfway between social documentary and psychological drama, “Nostalgia” remains a valuable testimony to the upsurge of an urban ghetto in full transformation. As proof, under the impetus of “Don Antonio”, the “ragazzi” of Sanità founded a social cooperative, baptized “La Paranza” (the Squadron), which embarked on the cleaning and restoration of churches. deconsecrated. The catacombs of San Gennaro, at the foot of the Capodimonte museum, have once again become a hotspot for tourism thanks to some forty young people from the neighborhood who have become guides. In May 2022, thanks to Mario Martone, some of them, those who took part in the filming, were able to walk the red carpet of the Cannes Film Festival, on the Croisette, dressed in tuxedos made by seamstresses from the Sanità district. Like a snub to the Camorra.

5 mafia movies made in Italy

– “Main Basse sur la ville”, by Francesco Rosi (1963): how the Camorra carried out the real estate bag in Naples with the complicity of political and financial circles. The director updates the porosity of the city to politico-speculative pressures.

– “Lucky Luciano” by Francesco Rosi (1973): the film traces the biography of the Sicilian boss considered the father of organized crime in the modern era.

– “The Hundred Steps” by Marco Tullio Giordano (2000): a rebellious teenager begins to fight against the practices of the Cosa Nostra families in Sicily.

– “Gomorra” by Matteo Garrone (2008): adapted from the “bestseller” by Roberto Saviano, the film recounts the practices of the Camorra to enforce their law in the outlying districts of Naples.

– “The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio (2019): the film tells the story of Tommaso Buscetta, the most important repentant in the history of the Sicilian mafia, who fled his country to take refuge in Brazil.

Mario Martone, the filmmaker who revisits the anti-mafia film