'Nostalgia' movie review: Martone’s film does well to give us a visual sense of walking down memory lane but the rather under-cooked scripting doesn’t offer much hope for it to be altogether worthwhile
Still from Nostalgia
Film: Nostalgia (Italian/English Subtitles)
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Francesco Di Leva, Tommaso Ragno, Aurora Quattrocchi, Sofia Essaïdi
Director: Mario Martone
Runtime: 117 mins
‘Nostalgia, ’ Italy’s entry for the Oscar’s, is based on the novel by Ermanno Rea, and is a captivating character study of a man haunted by his past trying to find closure. Persuaded by his wife Arlette (Sofia Essaïdi), Felice Lasco (Pierfrancesco Favino) a resident of Cairo and a converted Muslim, returns to Naples after 40 years - ostensibly to visit his age-affected mother, Teresa (Aurora Quattrocchi), and to reconnect with his past. But the predominantly Catholic Naples he stealthily left behind at age 15, doesn’t seem the same even if it looks the same. His nearly blind mother now lives in a dingy basement apartment after being swindled out of their much more spacious upstairs one. The streets are riven with biker gangs firing into the air at will and violence seems to have become routine. The biggest change he finds himself confronting is that of his best friend Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno), who is now a dangerous crime boss. Felice is unable to reconcile himself to that change and wants to rekindle the close brotherhood he and Oreste experienced in their youth.
The screenplay by writer/director Mario Martone and co-writer Ippolita Di Majo focuses on the man who's trying to make sense of his past. Felice experiences alienation even as he strives to stay connected. He re-engages with the old haunts of his past but finds that most places and people are unfamiliar to him. Given that an angry and violent criminal fraternity led by Oreste holds sway over the place, is it safe for him to try and reconcile with his erstwhile friend? The Catholic priest Don Luigi(Francesco Di Leva), who is leading the reformation war against the Camorra, and its boss 'O malommo' (the bad man), warns him that his staying back is a folly and so does his mother’s old admirer, Raffaele (Nello Mascia). But Felice is determined to try his luck.
The narrative merges past and present as Felice goes traipsing through his memory lane. A few flashbacks bring back those early days and the young Feli’ and Ore’ (Emanuele Palumbo and Artem) are seen bonding together as brothers before a horrible trauma occurs.
The priest, Don Luigi’s character is based on a real person (Don Antonio Loffredo), a social worker who has been helping protect youth from crime and danger. Nostalgia takes its time to answer questions that the screenplay throws up. There’s not much drama and the expected but shocking end seems a little premeditated. The death of Felice’s mom is not given enough screen time and his relationship with his wife is way too sketchily represented to make sense. We don’t really get to know whether Felice is angry towards Oreste, or just feeling guilty for running away. Nostalgia had some interesting ideas but they don’t yield dramatic dividends. The camerawork captures the beauty of the poorer side of Naples, aiding in setting a tone that is regretful, poignant and nostalgic. Martone and his cinematographer Paolo Carnera ensure the film is as much a portrait of a city as it is of a man.The pacing is rather inconsistent and the tone veers towards depressing. Though not overly sentimental, the narrative veers into a dark and edgy dominion. Despite the rather unpalatable ending, this film has strong moments of empathy that can be felt and experienced. Pierfrancesco Favino as Felice breathes life into the role, lending it an emotive strength that can be identified with.
Felice’s attempt to look back into his past and reflect on those good times feels natural enough but his obsession with a former friend who is now threatening him with dire consequences, doesn’t quite make sense. Martone’s film does well to give us a visual sense of walking down memory lane but the rather under-cooked scripting doesn’t offer much hope for it to be altogether worthwhile.