Father Lorenzo Borrelli Fabrizio Bentivoglio
Pianese Nunzio Emanuele Gargiulo
Ada Manuela Martinelli
Cuccarini Tonino Taiuti
Aunt Rosaria Rosaria De Cicco
Anna Maria Pica Teresa Saponangelo
Giovanni Nando Triola
Perhaps the most controversial film unveiled in Venice, “Pianese Nunzio, Fourteen in May” has ruffled feathers at the Vatican and in the establishment press with its frank depiction of a sexual relationship between a Catholic priest and a teenage boy. The courage of Neapolitan writer-director Antonio Capuano in tackling such explosive material instantly distinguishes the project from the pack, but the powerful central drama is somewhat enervated by the filmmaker’s orgy of styles. Nevertheless, this intense reflection on crime, guilt, sexuality and spirituality should figure widely in fest lineups.
Capuano turned heads with his 1991 debut, “Vito and the Others,” a tough, honest account of a Neapolitan street urchin who becomes a killer at 12. His sophomore feature is set in the same seedy quarter of Rione Sanita, where idealistic Father Borrelli (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) delivers passionate sermons urging his parishioners to reject the tyranny of a local underworld faction called the Camorra. The outspoken, charismatic young priest denounces the Mafia menace in newspaper interviews and even refuses to serve Communion to a congregation that fraternizes with criminals, making him a target for Camorra hostility.
Not wishing to make a martyr of Borrelli, the mob finds a means of discrediting him in Nunzio (Emanuele Gargiulo). A poor kid whose unfit mother has unloaded him onto an aunt with problems of her own, Nunzio has found in the priest the love, tenderness and paternal guidance that are not forthcoming from his family. While the sexual nature of the relationship is by no means soft-pedaled, Capuano refuses to take a condemnatory stance against pedophilia, an approach that undoubtedly will spark heated debate in Italy and beyond. Instead, the priest almost justifies his carnal intimacy with the boy in dialogue with God that muses on the link between eroticism and sanctity.
Nunzio clearly is heterosexual, but willingly accepts the physical pleasure offered by Father Borrelli almost as a natural extension of his affection. Capuano’s script implies that Nunzio’s life with the priest is by far preferable to any life he has had with his family or on the streets, so much so that he wishes to enter the priesthood himself. The mob, meanwhile, involves social workers, schoolteachers and local legal officials in its attempt to convince Nunzio to file charges against the priest.
Like Capuano’s previous feature, “Pianese Nunzio” pieces together a cold mosaic of Naples as a Third World slum city, with bullets constantly flying and murder a matter-of-fact occurrence. But it is precisely this attention to the city’s glowering presence that almost smothers the ambiguous core drama.
Capuano’s fragmentary narrative approach takes too long to clarify the central story elements, and his habit of overlaying jarringly incongruous music tracks and playing out key moments of the action off camera feels mannered and distracting. The most overused device is the characters’ presentation of themselves through direct-to-camera rundowns of name, age and general background , as in the deposition-style title.
But despite its stylistic clutter, this arrestingly shot film demands admiration for the many uneasy questions it raises and for its audacious stance against the Church, the Camorra and the Italian government.
Pic features one of Italy’s best actors in a role that seems not entirely suited to him: Bentivoglio’s soft-spoken, earnest performance imbues the priest with a pious, almost beatified demeanor that no doubt will fuel further ire from religious circles. Newcomer Gargiulo is solemn and affecting.