×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Naples ’44’

Benedict Cumberbatch narrates this affectionate yet misguided tribute to Norman Lewis’ towering diary of his year in Naples at the end of WWII.

With:
Narration: Benedict Cumberbatch. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3886508/reference

Francesco Patierno (“The War of the Volcanoes”) assembles an impressive amount of footage shot in Naples at the end of World War II to illustrate his affectionate tribute to Norman Lewis’ towering memoir “Naples ’44.” Getting Benedict Cumberbatch on board as the narrator reading Lewis’ words is perhaps an even greater coup, yet the documentary is a weak, at times painfully misguided attempt to capture the great writer’s humane memoir of his year in Naples as a British soldier with the Intelligence Corps. Undoubtedly this movie will turn up on the History Channel or similar broadcast outlets, but the best outcome will be a spike in book sales rather than film rentals.

Lewis was 35 when he was posted from North Africa to newly liberated Naples in September 1943; he arrived to witness a city on its knees, devastated physically and morally from Fascism, severe bombings, the Nazi occupation, and then the Allied takeover. Lewis was assigned to investigate all manner of misbehavior by a populace whose social fabric had been torn to shreds, and he did so with sensitivity and an affection inseparably mingled with melancholy reflections on the war’s toll.

Patierno chooses a large selection of passages from Lewis’ diary (which wasn’t published until 1978), revealing the author’s interactions with the locals and his shock at how a proud population had been scarred by years of battle fatigue. Yet despite Cumberbatch’s warmly voiced intonations, the words often lose their beauty and power since the documentary has no sense of rhythm – where a reader can linger on especially poignant passages, musing on Lewis’ profoundly shaken understanding of man’s inhumanity to man, the film simply moves along, jumping from humbled aristocrats to middle class women prostituting themselves to Neapolitan kleptomania without the pauses necessary to take it all in.

Equally problematic is that Patierno doesn’t limit himself to using nonfiction footage but throws in clips from “The Four Days of Naples,” “Catch-22” and “Il re di Poggioreale,” among others, throwing the viewer completely out of Lewis’ world and substituting his reality for Ernest Borgnine and Keenan Wynn. For Italian audiences, it’s especially injudicious to use clips from movies starring the great comedian Totò whenever Lewis talks of his friend and informer Lattarulo, as it needlessly conflates the memoir’s dignified yet ambiguous figure with a clown. Curiously, Lewis’ not infrequent passages about massive corruption among the Allied officers are largely absent, and his gut-wrenching evocation of the female population’s degradation is passed over far too quickly.

Presumably to make the documentary more “accessible,” Patierno includes images of an actor walking through Naples, standing in for Lewis himself, who died in 2003. While certainly superior to the recreations that currently afflict nearly all TV documentaries, these serve little purpose.

Film Review: 'Naples '44'

Reviewed at Rome Film Festival (Official selection), October 18, 2016. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production: (Documentary – Italy) A Dazzle Communication, Rai Cinema presentation of a Dazzle Communication, with Rai Cinema production, in association with In Between Art Film, Istituto Luce Cinecittà. (International sales: True Colours, Rome.) Produced by Davide Azzolini, in collaboration with Francesca Barra.

Crew: Directed, written by Francesco Patierno, based on the book by Norman Lewis. Camera (b&w, color), Gianni Troilo. Editor, Maria Fantastica Valmori.

With: Narration: Benedict Cumberbatch. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Midnight Traveler review

    Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler'

    Refugees rarely get to tell their own stories, which means their stories get told for them — often inaccurately and with undue hostility. Lack of resources is one issue, but a lack of stability is another: Asylum-seekers are in a frightening state of limbo, fleeing the imminent dangers of their native countries only to suffer [...]

  • WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make

    WGA Authorizing Managers, Lawyers to Make Deals if Agents are Fired

    The Writers Guild of America has authorized managers and lawyers to negotiate deals for writers in place of agents — if the guild tells members to fire their agents on April 7. The guild’s negotiating committee notified members of the plans in a message Wednesday. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents having made [...]

  • Gone With the Wind Screening

    Film News Roundup: 'Gone With the Wind' Sets Event Cinema Record

    In today’s film news roundup, “Gone with the Wind” sets a new record, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” is acquired, and Tracy Oliver signs with Topic Studios. EVENT CINEMA RECORD More Reviews Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler' Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ The 80th anniversary release of “Gone with the Wind” has grossed $2.23 [...]

  • Made in Abyss - Journey’s Dawn

    Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’

    It’s a Herculean effort to take a multi-volume manga like author Akihito Tsukushi’s “Made in Abyss,” adapt it into a popular anime television series, and then compress the show into a coherent feature (technically, two movies), but the folks at Sentai Filmworks have done just that. Part one, “Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn,” will screen [...]

  • HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market

    HAF: 'Assassination,' 'Apprenticeship' Named Project Market Winners

    Eighteen prizes were presented on Wednesday afternoon at the closing ceremony of the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum. The project market sits alongside FilMart as part of the Entertainment Expo in Hong Kong. “Wong Tai Sin Assassination” to be directed by Wong Hoi and produced by Derek Kwok Tsz-kin, was named the winner of [...]

  • Contract Placeholder Business WGA ATA Agent

    Writers Guild Makes Concession on Film Financing in Agent Talks

    The Writers Guild of America has made a concession in film financing in its negotiations with Hollywood talent agents — the second in six weeks of talks. WGA West executive director David Young said Wednesday that it had made a “significant move” toward reaching a deal with the Association of Talent Agents for a revamped [...]

  • Noah Centineo He-Man

    Noah Centineo to Play He-Man in 'Masters of the Universe' Reboot

    From a boy (who’s loved) to He-Man. Noah Centineo is in talks to take on the superhero in Sony Pictures and Mattel Films’ “Masters of the Universe.” More Reviews Film Review: 'Midnight Traveler' Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s Dawn’ Brothers Adam and Aaron Nee are directing the reboot. Mattel Films is partnering with Sony [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content