“Nostalgia” review: A poignant journey into the past

You can’t go back home. or can you Both can be true simultaneously, as evidenced by Nostalgia, the gripping, finely tuned drama that was Italy’s official pick for this year’s Oscar for Best International Film.

Prolific director Mario Martone, who co-wrote Nostalgia with his wife Ippolita Di Majo (based on the novel by Ermanno Rea), has crafted an engaging, slow-moving story that masterfully spirals to a resolution that’s as avoidable as it is is inevitable: a poignant journey filled with sadness, regret, hope and a perhaps fateful dose of naivety.

The film is anchored by a wonderfully sensitive, likable turn from European Film Awards-nominated Pierfrancesco Favino (“The Traitor,” “Padrenostro”) as Felice Lasco, a 55-year-old construction boss returning to his hometown of Naples for the first time in 40 years.

The reflective opening scenes see Felice, who after decades living abroad – in Lebanon, South Africa and most recently in Egypt, where he lives with his wife Arlette (Sofia Essaïdi) – arrives and explores the city’s Sanità district, the seedy neighborhood of his Youth.

It soon turns out that Felice is there to visit his elderly, nearly blind mother, Teresa (Aurora Quattrocchi), whom he hasn’t seen since he fled the city at the age of 15. (We’ll learn later which teenager Felice was involved in—a murder soon after which an uncle took him protectively out of the country and taught him the construction trade.)

Felice’s scenes with gentle, loving Teresa are tender and bittersweet, especially one in which he has to bathe his ill-groomed mother with a sponge. Wealthy Felice also moves with his frail mother from their damp basement apartment to a larger, sunnier apartment nearby. This leads to another sweet moment between them, although it will prove to be short-lived.

But it’s that decades-old murder – committed by his best friend Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno) during one of the many petty thefts the young couple committed back then – that still haunts Felice the most. It’s a complicated event he’s now struggling to reconcile after returning to the crime scene, one that has remained, at least publicly, “unsolved.” The first step to this solution is to find Oreste and reunite with him.

Here’s the catch, though: Oreste stayed in town and became the deeply feared and ruthless leader of a local mob, essentially ruling the Sanità area. Felice can’t just stop by Oreste’s house to casually reminisce.

Even with some dire warning signs from Oreste’s camp that Felice should “go away,” plus the firm advice of busy neighborhood priest Don Luigi (Francesco Di Leva) and Teresa’s old friend Raffaele (Nello Mascia), Felice won’t be deterred from pursuing Down Oreste (now known as O Malommo, or “the villain”). Not only that, he wants to move back to Naples with Arlette and so remain in Orestes’ precarious and unfriendly orbit.

The final showdown between Felice and Oreste in a seedy Sanità hideout is superbly staged and performed, and imbued with a palpable layer of tense suspense. The way the cruel, unkempt Oreste can barely look his ex-blood brother in the eye, despite Felice’s measured appeal to put the past behind him (and with it any incriminating revelations about that once-murder) speaks volumes about the future their relationship. no matter how the hopeful Felice might see it.

Martone, who was born in Naples and is also an accomplished stage and opera director, has showcased his home territory in films such as Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician, The Mayor of Rione Sanità and The King of Laughter. Here he works with cinematographer Paolo Carnera to paint a somber, worn-out but oddly intimate portrait of the ancient city that often feels like a character itself. Flashbacks in Super 8 format to the young and unbridled Felice and Oreste (played as teenagers by Emanuele Palumbo and Artem respectively) provide an exuberant contrast to the more pensive or brooding scenes of the present, while confirming our belief in the couple’s original bond.

Indulging in nostalgia often brings back memories of a more loving and wistful version of what actually was, but this stirring, moving film is likely to leave viewers haunted by what could have been.


In Italian and Arabic with English subtitles

Not rated

Duration: 1 hour 58 minutes

To play: Lammle NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Available February 21st on VOD

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-01-27/review-nostalgia-pierfrancesco-favino-italian-drama “Nostalgia” review: A poignant journey into the past

Sarah Ridley

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