Review: ‘Souls of Naples’

Docu helmer Vincent Monnikendam knows that to properly understand the city of Naples, you need to imbibe its startling contradictions and omnipresent chaos. "Souls of Naples" interweaves the poor and rich, music and poetry, slums and villas to try to capture the quality of a city that defies easy categorization.

A correction was made to this review on April 8, 2005.

Docu helmer Vincent Monnikendam knows that to properly understand the Mediterranean city of Naples, you need to imbibe its startling contradictions and omnipresent chaos. Feasting on the highs and lows, “Souls of Naples” interweaves the poor and rich, music and poetry, slums and villas to try to capture the quality of a city that defies easy categorization. While no sharp points are actually made, and helmer underutilizes his key focus — Caravaggio’s moving masterpiece “The Seven Acts of Mercy” — docu’s lyrical qualities and sheer beauty will act as a sure lure for prestigious small-screen play.

In the early 17th century, seven Neapolitan noblemen founded a charitable organization to look after the city’s needy, us-ing the occasion to commission a painting by Caravaggio that summed up their mission. The charity still exists, with seven nobles meeting every Friday to discuss how the funds are best spent. Oddly, Monnikendam doesn’t show where the money goes, and occasionally he seems unsure whether to demonize the rich or applaud them for their unseen good deeds. Still, his expressive camera is fascinated by everything it sees, and his sympathetic eye never patronizes.

Souls of Naples

Netherlands

Production

Memphis Features presents a 1 More Film release (in the Benelux countries) of a Memphis Features, Ikon co-production. (International sales: Memphis Features, Amsterdam.) Produced by Sherman de Jesus, Cecile van Eijk. Directed, written by Vincent Monnikendam.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm & DigiBeta-to-35mm), Melle van Essen; editor, Albert Markus. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Time & Tide), Feb. 2, 2005. Italian dialogue. Running time: 95 MIN.
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