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VENICE 2019 Competition

Review: The Mayor of Rione Sanità

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- VENICE 2019: A surprising performance from Francesco Di Leva as a charismatic boss of the Camorra shines in Mario Martone’s adaptation of the eponymous play by Eduardo De Filippo

Review: The Mayor of Rione Sanità
Francesco Di Leva in The Mayor of Rione Sanità

“Those who have saints go to heaven, those who don’t come to me,” says Antonio Barracano, the charismatic boss of the Camorra and lead character of The Mayor of Rione Sanità [+see also:
trailer
interview: Mario Martone
film profile
]
. Where by “mayor”, we mean the one who controls and heads the criminal activities of the neighbourhood and resolves all disputes with authority. Selected in Competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, Mario Martone’s film is a film adaptation (written together with Ippolita di Majo) of the eponymous 1960 play by Eduardo De Filippo, staged in 2017 under the direction of Martone himself. The project was born from an idea by actor Francesco Di Leva, working at NEST, East Naples Theatre of San Giovanni in Teduccio, one of the poorest suburbs of Naples. The concept was to update the story by lowering the age of Eduardo’s character from 75 to 30 years old, the average age of the young leaders of today’s Camorra. What remains intact is the disturbing ambiguity of this “mayor” that everyone turns to for “justice” and who the forty-something Di Leva plays with striking talent. An ambiguity well explained by Eduardo: Barracano isn’t a godfather, but a man who has experienced injustice himself and who, for the sake of “eye-for-an-eye” justice and because of his distrust in men, simply returns the favour himself.

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In one of the film’s most intense sequences, Barracano tells the rich baker Arturo Santaniello (Massimiliano Gallo) about being born in a poor family and left to die by the guardian of the estate where he was locked up with the animals. He then took his revenge and killed the man, went to trial but was released an innocent man thanks to false testimonies.

The film opens on a shooting outside a club, but the three acts, which follow the structure of De Filippo’s original text, are almost entirely set indoors. The day of the “mayor” thus begins, and he receives his first visit: the shooter and the wounded, two very young friends who were fighting over a job, and who have now taken refuge in the villa on the slopes of the Vesuvius that is Barracano. To mend the boy’s wound, there is doctor Fabio Della Ragione, who mysteriously lives with the Barracano family and helps the “mayor” administer justice, regardless of all parties and outside the state. Played by the excellent Roberto De Francesco (who joined the cast just a few days before shooting began), the character of the doctor might be the most fascinating and Pinter-esque, a kind of prisoner suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. During the day, various other characters arrive asking for a hearing, until the confrontation with the baker, which Di Leva has developed more than the original text. Santaniello represents the other face of Naples, he is an honest man who got his fortune from working; he slams Barracano in the face with an integrity that is as hard as a diamond. The female characters, such as Barracano’s wife, Armida (Daniela Ioia) are updated to our times, but more prone to exchanging looks than words.

At a great distance from the Gomorra of television, Martone’s film is a story without time or place, about guilt, redemption and hope — as shown by the protagonist’s responsible gesture at the film’s end, open and non-pacifying, and which De Filippo, already 60 years ago, had written without any sense of false optimism. With The Mayor of Rione Sanità, the Neapolitan director once more creates a contact between cinema and theatre, inspired by Polanski, Fassbinder, Kurosawa and certainly Hitchcock, moving his characters in large but closed spaces, and putting them in focus with lengthy close-ups. His winning choice is to direct with a kind of freestyle rhythm, a cadence of Neapolitan rap, a melodic recitative flow, involving in the project the rapper Ralph P who, in addition to acting in the film, wrote its opening and closing songs.

Produced by Indigo Film with Rai Cinema, in co-production with Malìa and in collaboration with Elledieffe SRL, East Naples Theatre of San Giovanni in Teduccio, The Mayor of Rione Sanità will be playing in Italian cinemas as an event film from from 30 September to 2 October with Nexo. True Colours is handling international sales.

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(Translated from Italian)

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