Maverick director Tonino de Bernardi’s Neapolitan musical drama was a controversial choice for the Venice Fest competition, and not an entirely successful one: At times bold in concept and execution, “Appassionata” is ultimately too unstructured and banal. Beyond that, the almost wall-to-wall songs, all of them about the city of Naples, won’t mean a lot to non-Italians, but the pic could play well locally and in other cities with large Italo populations.
At first, the film comes on like a Jacques Demy film, with characters bursting into song and handsome sailors roaming the waterfront looking for girls. But Demy’s movies were beautifully worked out in terms of narrative, while de Bernardi’s pic is a chaotic, hit-and-miss affair.
The plot, such as it is, involves Pina (Isabel Ruth), who came to Naples from Portugal and who lives in near poverty with her two daughters, Rosa and Caterina. Rosa (Iaia Forte) wears an incongruous bridal gown she hasn’t taken off since she was jilted at the altar years earlier; Caterina (Galatea Ranzi) kills the man who wronged her as he leaves the church on his wedding day. Maddalena (Anna Bonaiuto), a call girl, witnesses the dramatic murder and is inspired to kill a man who has tormented her; both women wind up in prison. Meanwhile, a Madonna (Ines de Medeiros) rises out of the earth on a country chicken farm.
The misadventures of these characters are intercut with black-and-white sequences when a husband in 1929 shot and killed his wife in a cinema while watching a romantic film. He was forced to flee, and his grandson makes a belated appearance in the present day to sort out some of the romantic entanglements.
Almost all the dialogue is sung by the principals, in the form of established songs that are hymns to the city. This works for a while but eventually becomes tiresome, especially because none of the characters is particularly interesting or charismatic. The songs themselves are good, but, in this English subtitled version, seriously under-translated.
The pic was filmed in the back streetsof Naples, with camera-conscious extras , mostly children, staring into the lens. Technical credits are OK.