8 May 2018 | Bezenby
Should be more well known
This is truly one of the best films the Euro-crime genre has to offer. It's a moving period drama about life in the Gomorrah in Naples at the end of the nineteenth century, with all three leads giving amongst their best performances. It may even be Fabio Testi's finest film.
Nicola Belizzi (Nero) is an ex-con once known as the Red Cap who has returned to Naples after a long stint in jail. He's figuring on going straight and is keeping a secret - he's trying to study law in order to start a new life, something which is looked down on by fellow Neopolitans. He also gets caught up in the life of local Gomorrah Don Gaetano (Testi), a man who lives by the code of honour of the streets. Don Gaetano's woman, ex-whore Lucia (Cardinale), seems to take a liking to Belizzi which causes friction between the two men, but the two quickly form a bond when Belizzi starts helping Don Gaetano out with some Gomorrah business.
Belizzi then joins the Gomorrah but when Testi discovers that Belizzi really intends to be a lawyer, he surprisingly give him his full supports and vows to do everything he can to help him achieve his goal. Things take a turn for the worst however when Don Gaetano is instructed to kill a businessman setting up without Gomorrah approval, and a crooked cop uses Cardinale to lure out Don Gaetano and land him in jail. Meanwhile, new lawyer Belizzi meets a new level of society and realises that the upper classes are just as corrupt and horrible as anyone else...
This film really wears its heart on its sleeve. Crime film turned court drama, we get a real insight into the everyday workings of the Gomorrah and life in Naples itself. Testi at first plays Don Gaetano as an arrogant, violent dandy, but soon shows that although he's painfully bound by Gomorrah's honour system, and seeks to break free from the unspoken rules. Once in jail, he can only be freed by Cardinale testifying against the cop, which would lead to Gaetano losing face amongst his own. This leads to one of the most truly moving scenes of the film where Gaetano has to choose between losing respect, and love.
Nero's character also goes through a huge sea change, from the subdued penitent to the loyal friend who suddenly finds himself bound by a new set of rules, to the enraged public speaker raving about the state of Naples and its society. Cardinale once again plays a women rebelling against the whole society she's been trapped in, and really stands out during the court scene.
I caught this on television while on holiday in that region years and years ago, but never managed to get the title of the film. The most vivid thing I remember is the last tracking shot that pulls away from the action into modern day Naples, out into the street while people actually wave at the camera, which seems to say 'It will always be like this'. This one will stay with you for a while.