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Venice: Mario Martone on Power of Performing in a Bad Hood for ‘The Mayor of Rione Sanità’

Versatile Italian director Mario Martone was in the Venice competition last year with costumer “Capri-Revolution.” This year he made the Lido competition cut again with a very different type of film, a screen adaptation of a controversial piece by Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo about a local mob boss who has moral fibre. He spoke to Variety about the crime-ridden neighborhood theatre from where the project sprung forth.

How did this movie germinate?

While I was preparing “Capri-Revolution,” a new chapter sort of opened up for me. I had done the Edoardo De Filippo piece, which the film draws upon, in the [national] theatre. And then I started working on my next movie which will be about Edoardo De Filippo’s father, Edoardo Scarpetta…who will be played by Toni Servillo. What happened is that a group of local actors who work on the outskirts of Naples, an area that brings to mind “Gomorrah,” asked me to do “The Mayor of Rione Sanità” with them.

Tell me more about the theatre troupe

They are extraordinary actors, starting with the lead Francesco Di Leva. They do a great job working in this space where they squat; it’s the gym of an abandoned school building. There they’ve created this 100-seat theater that has become a positive space for the social and artistic rebirth of the neighborhood. Naples has always had this sort of invisible wall between the morally upright society and the criminal part of the city. I’ve always found this absurd. So I was delighted to do the show there, in that neighborhood. The performance was born there, in this 100-seat theatre; then it toured Italy and won a prize.

So how did it become a movie?

The opportunity of working with these kids gave me a sense of reality. And I think this sense of reality is what ended up spawning the movie. There is something about them…it’s almost as though the film is a documentary dressed up as a movie. Many of them come from the Neapolitan criminal underworld; they know the subject matter very well. That was the spirit behind the film. Never before had I thought of making a movie from a piece of theatre I’ve done. This time was different. I had the film in mind exactly the way it appears on screen.

How different is the Camorra today from 1960 when De Filippo wrote the play? Was it challenging to set the film in a contemporary context?

It was something I was very aware of. But the two crime worlds have a lot in common and the actors were the ones who found these common links. Some of them didn’t even know who Edoardo De Filippo was [before acting in his play]. But when they played out the situations that he wrote they really felt them, as though they were part of their reality. This is because Edoardo De Filippo had written a very modern piece.

Do you think it can resonate outside Italy?

In the international arena Naples is known for “Gomorrah,” so this is a recognizable universe. The narrative has a different dynamic, in a way. But I didn’t have any trouble referencing that world as a genre. “Gomorrah,” in its various permutations, created a genre which is a major accomplishment. And what’s behind this genre? It’s like a scream that’s being unleashed from the “bad” part of the city. From the part of Naples that the “good” part of the city has always doggedly refused to acknowledge and look at. Now it’s as though this part of Naples has exploded. It’s saying: ‘this is who we are!’…In our bad aspects and good aspects as well. More importantly: ‘this is who we are as human being beings!’ That’s what I hope makes this film universal.


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