Filmmaker Giuseppe Bertolucci’s perceptive feeling for theater illuminates “Luparella,” a stirring one-woman show set in a brothel during the German occupation of Naples in 1943. Bertolucci opens up playwright/stage helmer Enzo Moscato’s strong text with archive footage showing the bombing of the city, and with haunting songs. A stunningly vivid perf by actress Isa Danieli, who tells the tale of the prostitute Luparella with rage and wounded dignity as though it were a tragic universal fable about the condition of women, will reach out to any TV viewer willing to give it half a chance.
The mature Nana (Danieli) recalls her days as a girl washing linen for a bordello. In a city overrun with invaders, the prostitutes and midwives flee, leaving Nana alone when Luparella goes into labor. Courageously, she delivers the baby, but is powerless to save the sick, aging mother. Drama continues with the horrifying rape of the corpse by a handsome young German soldier, whom Nana kills with the scissors used to cut the baby’s umbilical cord. Pasquale Scialo’s moving score recreates ’30s and ’40s atmosphere, inspired by German lieder and popular music of the time.