Directors Mario Martone and Paolo Sorrentino both hail from Naples, the bustling port city that Martone vividly depicts in his drama “Nostalgia,” which is Italy’s contender in the international Oscars race.
The well-received pic, which has been praised by Variety critic Guy Lodge as the prolific Italian auteur’s “most rewarding film in years,” stars Pierfrancesco Favino as the middle-aged Felice Lasco, a Neapolitan native who returns to his hometown after having lived in Egypt for 40 years. As Felice gets caught up in memories of his distant Neapolitan life, his criminal youth slowly and fatally catches up with him.
Besides Favino, the “Nostalgia” cast also includes Francesco Di Leva, who played the lead in Martone’s “The Mayor of Rione Sanità” and in this drama plays a priest, Father Loffredo, who tries to help the protagonist navigate the Naples of today.
Martone and Sorrentino, who have long been living in Rome, both recently returned to Naples to make movies there. In Sorrentino’s case his autobiographical “The Hand of God” marked a return to his roots. For Martone, though less personal, “Nostalgia” is an ode to his city, but also to how childhood memories affect our lives.
In an onstage conversation in Rome the two Neapolitan auteurs discussed their rapport with Naples and nostalgia itself, which Sorrentino says “isn’t just a feeling, but a desire to return to the place where we learned about the world.”
Here are edited excerpts of the conversation to which Variety has been given exclusive access.
Sorrentino: For me, nostalgia isn’t just a feeling, but a desire to return to the place where we learned about the world. Everything we learn about the world as adults is an interpretation. I wanted to ask you what does nostalgia means for you?
Martone: It’s connected to childhood. Following up on what you said, which was beautiful. But nostalgia isn’t only connected to the childhood you’ve experienced: getting to know the world the way we do as youngsters. When Ippolita di Majo and I read the book, we fell in love with Felice Lasco because Felice rediscovers a sense of wonder; the wonder of his childhood. There’s still a child inside of him.
Sorrentino: Questions about Naples are always tricky to answer. But since I’m not the one who has to answer, I’m happy to ask the question. At the start of the film, Favino’s character says, if I’m not mistaken: “Nothing has changed here.” Then there’s the whole Father Loffredo story where instead it seems like the city has drastically changed. So I merely wanted to ask you: have things in Naples changed or not?
Martone: Paolo, in Naples, everything changes, and nothing changes. Everything changes because people put up a fight; because Naples is a high-energy city and luckily this energy generates changes, and above all it generates moments [of change]. Moments that are lovely, powerful, happy. But then Oreste kills Felice and this is incredibly important. The night we shot the murder scene was unforgettable, there was a sense of dismay. I practically shot it with my eyes closed because it pained me so much.