1 July 2004 | ItalianGerry
The golden soul of Naples.
The title translates as "Thus Spoke Bellavista," or as in the case of the Avril Bardoni translation, published in Britain, of Luciano De Crescenzo's book on which this film was based, "Thus Spake Bellavista."
The movie is a collection of Neapolitan vignettes, united by the philosophical words of Gennaro Bellavista, an amiable retired professor of philosophy whose friends, neighbors, and co-Neapolitans we are able to observe. Like the stories of Giuseppe Marotta in "The Gold of Naples" and the De Sica film based on that work, the movie evokes the Neapolitan spirit: garrulous, uncannily shrewd and worldly-wise, poetic, life-affirming, musical, and ever passionate about love
The film is set into motion by the arrival from Milan of Dr. Cazzaniga (Renato Scarpa) transferred to the city of Partenope for business reasons. His rational, logical, methodically north-Italian, north-European style comes into direct conflict with the customs and manners of the locals. Lina Wertmüller's "Ciao, Professore" charts some of this same territory.
It is said that unemployment is the perennial occupation of Naples. Bellavista's daughter is engaged to a young architect who is unemployed. She is already carrying his child. The couple's venture into running a religious-goods shop goes awry when threatened by creditors and the local Camorra.
A fortuitous rapprochement between Bellavista and Cazzaniga begins when they are together in a stalled elevator. From Cazzaniga's subsequent offer of employment to Bellavista's son. the couple will decide to move to Milan. Their child is born on the plane, midway between Naples and Milan. North and South have symbolically come together.
The best things in the film are the numerous minor characters, their mannerisms, facial expressions. Much of what they say could never be properly translated into any other language via subtitles. The Neapolitan dialect has a palette than resists any such conversions. I especially like the scene with the two dotty old ladies, one deaf as a doornail, trying to decide which numbers to select to play in the lottery. There is a wacky bit with a guy who "assists" a man who is having his picture taken in a photo booth. He has the gall to charge the guy for being his "photo director." Only in Naples!
Luciano de Crescenzo, who wrote the original book and directed the film, also stars as its uniting title character, Gennaro Bellavista, and he is a remarkable and admirable presence. The movie was never released in the United States. Too parochial, perhaps? But it was shown at New York's Museum of Modern Art in December of 1993 as part of their film series entitled "Napoletana: Images of a City."