NEAPLES, Italy – Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film, The Hand of God, begins with a bird’s eye view of Naples, his hometown, at dawn, with a lonely vintage car driving down the coastal road while the rest of the city sleeps uncharacteristically.
Against the backdrop of this autobiographical story of growing up, Naples around the bends is fantastic and decadent, sunny and unpredictable, comfortably familiar and ultimately limiting.
Even more behind the scenes.
In the 20 years since Sorrentino last shot his film here – his directorial debut One Man Up – the city has also become a center for filmmaking in Italy. Film crews and television crews are a common sight on Neapolitan streets these days, both in the city center and in the more rugged remote areas. These productions have helped shape the local industry, including actors, technicians and filmmakers.
“There has been tremendous growth,” said Maurizio Gemma, director of the Campania Local Cinematography Commission, which has focused its efforts since 2005 on attracting and facilitating film and television production.
Then, according to Gemma, 10 or 12 projects were filmed in the area. Today, he says, “we shoot about 150 projects a year,” including big-budget TV shows like HBO’s “My Brilliant Friend,” based on Elena Ferrante’s best-selling novels.
“We are most pleased that these important titles include the work of many professionals in our region,” Gemma said. But then, he added, “we always had a penchant for show business, culture; it’s part of our history, it’s in our DNA. “
Naples is a city of contradictions, richly decorated baroque palazzo and abandoned houses, a ruthless and uncontrollable movement and an official unemployment rate of 21.5 percent, double the national average. But it is also a city of culture, both intelligent and popular, and home to songs such as “O sole mio” and “Santa Lucia”.
Its shabby grandeur, narrow streets and stunning views of the Gulf of Naples with Vesuvius in the background make the city a natural open-air filming location.
In recent years, the scenery has been moved to the suburb of Naples and its less healing part of the belly. The dark 2009 film Gomorrah by Roman Matteo Garrone and the popular TV series of the same name brought these abandoned areas to a wide international audience.
Director Antonio Capuano, who plays an important role in The Hand of God, said at a recent screening of his 1998 film Polvere di Napoli, which he wrote with Sorrentino, that Gomorra was “a postcard to Naples. and it’s awful. “
Pasquale Yaccio, author of several books on Neapolitan cinema, said that “Gomorrah” was only one “aspect of Naples among many” clichés about the city that still houses the courtyard.
As proof, he cited an anecdote from the Neapolitan filming of Eat, Pray, Love, where producers paid residents of an alley in the center of Naples to hang clothes and sheets from their windows, because the alley “simply wouldn’t be Naples without them. for the American scenario, ”he said.
A cinematic landmark in Naples, the city never gets bored. “Let’s just say there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Gea Vaccaro, a Naples city official who oversees an office that helps manufacturing companies deal with city bureaucracy and permits. “Naples is a difficult city,” she said.
One of the ways the city is helping to attend the performances is by providing them with office space by allocating rooms in a huge palazzo in the city center – Sorrentino’s team on Hand of God has occupied a spacious room with frescoed ceilings.
Mayor Gaetano Manfredi, elected in October, said in an interview that the fruitful cinematic season “strengthened Naples’ international brand” and allowed a sizable diaspora of Neapolitans living abroad to keep in touch with their city.
“The economic aspect should not be disregarded,” said Manfredi.
Last year, Italian regions pledged around € 50 million ($ 57 million) to attract television and film production, in addition to other government funds and tax breaks, according to Tina Bianchi, secretary general of the Italian Cinematography Commission, the umbrella group of regional authorities. cinematographic commissions.
For a while, according to Francesco Nardella, deputy director of the Italian national broadcaster that co-produces Un Posto al Sole (A Place in the Sun), the wildly popular, booming industry has started for some time. An Italian weekday drama set in Naples, as well as other series here.
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According to Nardella, “Un Posto al Sole”, which turned 25 last October, has been and remains the “fundamental engine” for making films in Naples.
“Teaching” new generations of actors and technicians is the “key word,” he said. “And the seeds have grown.”
Along with shows such as “Un Posto al Sole” and “La Squadra”, another series from Naples, ending with a 10-season series in 2010, has starred directors such as Antonio Capuano, Pappi Corsicato since the 90s , Stefano Inserti and Mario Martone. brought Naples to the big screen.
“We lean on a tank filled with some of the most extraordinary actors that exist in Italy,” Martone said in an interview this week. His latest film, Qui Rido Io (The King of Laughter), stars Tony Servillo, best known to the American public for the title role in Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning “Great Beauty”. Servillo was born in Afragola, a Neapolitan suburb, and performed on the city’s stage for many years.
“Naples has returned to being the capital of Italian cinema as it was at its origins,” said Martone, who opened Qui Rido Io with footage of the city taken by the Lumière brothers in 1898.
According to Alex Marlow-Mann, a professor at the University of Kent in England, in the early years of cinema, Naples rivaled Turin as the center of Italian filmmaking, and more than 350 films were made during the silent era. wrote a book about Neapolitan cinema.
This all came to an end in the 1920s, when the local film industry came to a standstill during the fascist regime. Benito Mussolini not only centralized the industry in Rome with the founding of the film studio Cinecittà in 1937, but also objected to the Neapolitan penchant for melodrama, which often occurs among the working class and is spoken in a dialect. “It was not the image of Italy that Mussolini wanted to promote, so censorship was established,” said Marlow-Mann.
Films continued to be made there after World War II, according to Marlow-Mann, but they were mostly formulaic genre films that critics did not like, with the exception of films that followed the long tradition of Neapolitan comedy, and that was only in the 90s. when Neapolitan cinematography began to take over again.
At the end of Hand of God, a character based on the young Sorrentino leaves Naples for Rome. In fact, Sorrentino left Naples for good at only 37, and until that time lived in the family home, he said in a recent interview with an Italian newspaper.
In the film, Capuano (Ciro Capano) reproaches the young man for wanting to leave his hometown.
“No one will get out of this city,” the director tells him. “You know how many stories there are in this city. Look! “- he says, looking at the view of the Bay of Naples that opens with the onset of dusk.