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Nostalgia - Film Review (ST. ALi Italian Film Festival 2022)

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
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A Neapolitan homecoming stirs up the past
Returning to his hometown of Naples after a 40-year absence, businessman Felice Lasco (played by Pierfrancesco Favino) finds a city that's eerily familiar. Memories of his youth wash back as he wanders the narrow streets of his old neighbourhood. The city, a hectic buzz of people, commerce and life, is familiar, yet Felice stands out, unable even to speak the Neapolitan dialect anymore. So begins director Mario Martone's absorbing and wonderfully constructed drama Nostalgia, a major highlight of this year's ST. ALi Italian Film Festival.

Felice, who now runs a business in Cairo and has an Egyptian wife, has returned to Naples to visit his ailing mother. Knocking on her door, Felice is surprised to find strangers in his mother's apartment: his mother has been moved into a squalid flat in the basement of the building and is neglected and poorly. Guilty about his long absence and ignorance of her situation, Felice begins caring for his mother, washing and feeding her and even seeking out a new apartment for her.

Not long after Felice moves his mother into a more pleasant home, she succumbs to her old age. At her funeral, and after deciding to relocate back to Naples, Felice meets priest Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva). Aside from being a man of god, Don Luigi is a community fixer. The priest's biggest problem is a criminal named Oreste (Tommaso Ragno). It comes as a surprise then for Don Liugi to hear Felice's request for help in contacting Oreste - it turns out Felice and the crime boss used to run around together. Don Luigi acquiesces, but not before embarking on a clever scheme to try and insulate Felice from danger.

As it slowly burns towards its climax, Nostalgia is gripping at every turn. That's even true at the film's outset, where the pacing is gentle, when Felice is just strolling the city, a man trying to reconnect with his past. Grainy flashbacks illustrate Felice's memories - him a teenager racing the streets on his motorcycle (often accompanied by Oreste). But what begins as mere nostalgia, changes markedly after Felice's mother dies. Felice is now obviously under threat. This is the film's major tonal change, leaving drama and venturing into thriller territory.

Pierfrancesco Favino's performance as Felice is captivating. A confident, proud man who has escaped his hardscrabble youth to find success in business overseas, back now in his hometown he's a foreigner, someone who must learn to live in a hostile place, a place that can't forget the past. Francesco Di Leva as Don Luigi is also a highlight, the enthusiastic priest hard not to like as he manically goes about trying to protect Felice.

With Nostalgia, Mario Martone has given us a bittersweet love letter to Naples. A work about how the past is always close to the surface. It's an excellent film, gorgeous-looking on the screen, mature, twisty and rewarding.

Nostalgia is screening as part of the ST. Ali Italian Film Festival 2022 which runs August-September. See for details.
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*Nicholas Gordon was invited as a guest
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Why? For Naples.
When: 13/9/22-12/10/22
Where: Palace Cinemas
Cost: Varies
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