If evidence were necessary that the compilation picture is way past its prime as a format, “The Vesuvians” is here to provide it. This quintet of fanciful, fairy-tale visions of Naples by five of the city’s most accomplished filmmakers was designed to showcase the creative vitality and maverick spirit flourishing in recent years in the shadow of the volcano. But all five directors have presented vastly superior work in the past. One of the low points of the Venice competition, this uninspired enterprise looks more likely to fizzle than erupt.
Even in the 1960s heyday of this subgenre, when directors including Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica and Luchino Visconti lent their names to such projects, the results often were frustratingly patchy. Here they rarely rise above a general pall of misfired humor and labored eccentricity, despite the talented names involved. Those are Pappi Corsicato (“Libera,” “Black Holes”), Antonietta De Lillo (“Matilda”), Antonio Capuano (“Vito and the Others,” “Pianese Nunzio, 14 in May”), Stefano Incerti (“The Meter Reader”) and Mario Martone (“Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician,” “L’Amore Molesto”).Little more than a campy joke, “Iana’s Descendants” by Corsicato concerns a group of modern-day warrior women on motorcycles, all named after Italian soap-powder brands. The thin tale of kidnapping and rescue is a pointless homage to the trashy biker chicks of Russ Meyer and Roger Corman films, with elements of Fellini, John Waters and even the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers tossed in.
More ambitious but also more excruciating in its studied surrealism is Capuano’s “Sofialoren,” about a poor fisherman and his beloved squid that turns into a beautiful woman at night, while Incerti’s “The Devil in the Bottle” is a clumsily told moral tale of covetousness and comeuppance.
Marginally more rewarding by comparison is De Lillo’s “Maruzella,” centered on the rather purple figure of a maudlin, aging transvestite who lives above a porno theater and provides arcane services to its patrons until an encounter with a romantically jaded woman changes his life.
Martone’s “The Climb” is a notch above the rest. It follows the mayor of Naples (a barely fictionalized version of the town’s current chief, Antonio Bassolino) as he schleps up Vesuvius, on the way meeting emblematic figures — including the Marxist talking crow from Pasolini’s “The Hawks and Sparrows” — and pondering the somewhat muddled mission of the left in the current political climate. But while the piece at least has some of the dramatic momentum its bedfellows lack, it will mean little to those unfamiliar with Bassolino and the Italian left.
Technically, the production has its merits, and would be a fine calling card for the editors, cinematographers and production designers emerging from Naples’ indie sector were its content not generally so inane. Acting too often runs to overstatement of colorful regional tics and flowery oration.