Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 11, 2007 6:53 pm 
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A rough view of a rough scene

See Naples and die is a traditional tribute to this great city. Its original meaning is, when you’ve seen Naples, your life is complete. Enrico Caria has rung an ironic change on the words: he is pointing to the fact that Naples has an exceptionally high homicide rate: go to Naples, if you’re in the wrong part of it, and your life won’t be worth much. There are two Naples: the Naples of history and beauty, of art and fine cuisine and fine living and elegance; and the Naples of crime, drugs, and early death. The good Naples is in view of the sea; the bad one, in the benighted new districts to the north where the only view of the sea is from the police helicopters circling overhead.

Caria’s documentary, which he states was inspired by a viewing of Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, updates the story of the Mafia in Naples with a focus on how the camorristi, as Italians call the gangster tribe, have taken over large newer peripheral working class districts of the city built up after the destruction of the 1980 earthquake, the year of a big Mafia risorgimento, notably occupying the neighborhood known as Scampia (also Secondigliano and Melito), literally occupying large apartment complexes, driving out the original inhabitants. Caria gives a lot of time to a young writer working underground, Roberto Saviano, author of a case-book, Gomorra - Viaggio nell'impero economico e nel sogno di dominio della camorra, (Gomorah: a Voyage into the Economic Empire and Dream of Domination of the Mafia), who in particular chronicles these developments, speaking of the districts involved and the leading crime families today. Today’s Neapolitan Mafiosi, Saviano says, are no longer peasants from Sicily but middle-class descendants of prosperous locals, and the explosion of the drug trade has greatly increased the economic significance of local activity; hence Scampia is full of drugs and full of addicts. Moreover the lifestyle is dominant and hypnotic: young men would rather deal drugs than earn the same amount of money as teachers.

There are many other voices heard in the film. They include the writer Valeria Parrella, Don Vittorio Siciliani, the founder of a Mafia research group (Osservatorio sulla camorra) Amato Lamberti, and various Naples residents. Some interviewees feel the situation is hopeless because of the lack of other viable labor opportunities in Naples. You can be a gangster, or you can be out of work. You can also be a musician or artist, and a rap group out of Scampia, A’67, is followed and interviewed.

This is a kind of “Me” journalism, because Caria tells the story along with his own tale of disenchantment, departure for Rome fleeing the earthquake and the Mafia, renewed hope and return and recent renewed disenchantment with his native city. He rambles with the people he finds and the approaches they force him to take. The film is based in part on Caria’s autobiographical the book chronicloing his Eighties escape to Rome and later return L'uomo che cambiava idea (The Man Who Changed His Mind). Children’s drawings and Caria's own animations are used in the humorous, ironic, satiric film chronicle.

The documentary is available in Italy on DVD. The version shown at Lincoln Center had an English narration by Caria designed to appeal to the American market. The package was not appealing. The film was shown in a crude video version and Caria’s own voiceover features English so sketchy that mispronunciations of vowels and other letters made it hard to follow at times: “tasty apples” became “testy” plus a pronunciation of “apples” to rhyme with “Naples” and the word “mayor” was pronounced “major.” The sloppy subtitles lagged behind the onscreen dialogue, omitted valuable details, and included misspellings. Despite these flaws of the version for English-speakers, the general content of the film might contain some updates for people with a specific interest in Naples’ Mafia, and it is intended to shock and galvanize Italians. But in fact, as Italian viewers have commented (it was shown in theaters in Italy in January 2007), it stops short of a strong message or a full perspective; and for all these reasons it seems unlikely—perhaps outside of Albania, where George W. Bush seems to be so popular today—to succeed as an export.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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