Nostalgia (Italian Film Festival) – Film Review

Nostalgia is a drama directed and co-written by renowned Italian filmmaker Mario Martone and based on the final novel of late author Ermanno Rea.

An exploration of the complexities of homecoming, the film follows businessman Felice Lasco (Pierfrancesco Favino) who after 4 decades of life in Africa and the Middle East, returns to his hometown in Naples to care for his decrepit mother, Teresa (Aurora Quattrocchi) in her final weeks.

Immediately falling back in love with the homeland he has not seen since he was 15, Felice befriends local priest Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva) and becomes more a part of the town than ever before, planning to permanently stay. There is an issue however, childhood best friend Oreste (Tommaso Ragno) now a local mob kingpin known as ‘Badman’ is not so happy to see his old chum return. With everyone telling Felice to leave, he must decide whether he wishes to remain or if he will flee his birthplace once again.

The centrepiece film of the 2022 ST ALi Italian Film Festival, Nostalgia comes straight from the Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or. This is a very slow burning film carried by beautiful scenery and amazing performances by both Favino and Ragno which shows how we can be consumed by our adoration of the past at the expense of the present.

Cinematographer Paolo Carnera does a brilliant job of bringing the poor town of Rione Sanità to life. A large part of the allure of Nostalgia comes across in quiet moments amongst its cramped alleyways and slums. While Felice does spend a matter of time in locations with picturesque cityscapes as backdrops, it is the nitty gritty that he falls in love with and director Mario Martone, himself a native of Naples, knows exactly how to show us its beauty while not at all shying away from its brutality or the presence of Camorra (local criminal organisations).

Felice’s journey throughout the city and reconnecting to his past is depicted well through flashbacks with use of alternate aspect ratios. We see Felice travel on a motor scooter though modern streets and alleys, intercut with him as a youth travelling on the same route. Thanks to the almost timeless nature of the town, it feels authentic. If anything, I would prefer there were more of this, however, as the film ceases using it, at the same time the film transforms more into a crime-based thriller.

I’ve been a fan of Francesco Di Leva since seeing him in crime thriller ‘Suburra’ and he is also brilliant in this. Although I feel more could have been done to develop his character and to see what exactly he has been up to during the past 40 years, Di Leva is so perfect in the role, we immediately empathise with him anyway despite this.

Perhaps an even more impressive performance is Tommaso Ragno’s largely silent role as the ‘Badman’ underworld figure. Without any dialogue and having relatively few scenes, we can still feel his character’s depression, volatility, and fear as he lives a thoroughly wretched life as this king of the slums.

Despite these two characters with their intrinsically joined fates, there is little tangible connection between them and perhaps this is the point, but it also feels like a consistent issue throughout the feature. Despite stellar performances and heartfelt moments such as the moments between Felice bathing his dying mother and caring for her in her final days, there’s still some vital soul missing from Nostalgia’s story.

It is hard to see why Felice is drawn back so much to Rione Sanità beyond its beauty. He was only 15 when he left in the first place and has lived a full life beyond it. With nothing particular pulling him in and nothing in his ‘new’ life really established beyond having a wife and a successful business, his behaviour seems not so much inexplicable as it is underdeveloped.

Nostalgia is an undeniably beautifully filmed and acted vision of life. Not just looking back at the past with rose tinted glasses but understanding the changes which have occurred since. Perhaps I’m just too dense to fully grasp the magnificent subtleties of this slow-paced film with its extremely predictable finale. But while the groundwork has been laid for something special, I couldn’t help but feel let down by avenues not explored and details not expanded on.

Nostalgia is screening in Australia as part of the ST. ALi Italian Film Festival which is on from the 13th to the 16th of October.
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