Review: ‘Naples ’44’ Chronicles Life During Wartime


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A scene from Francesco Patierno’s “Naples ’44.”

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First Run Features

A feat of editing and research, “Naples ’44,” directed by Francesco Patierno, is taken from a 1978 memoir by Norman Lewis. As a British intelligence officer during World War II, Mr. Lewis was stationed in Naples after the Allied Forces’ invasion of nearby Salerno in September 1943. An able translator, he helped the military communicate with the civilian population.

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Trailer: ‘Naples ’44’

A preview of the film.


By FIRST RUN FEATURES on Publish Date November 28, 2017.


Image courtesy of Internet Video Archive.

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On the evidence of the film, he also served as a remarkable chronicler of life in the occupied city. His plain-spoken yet poetic sentences (“Now the statues are disappearing from the public squares, and one cemetery has lost most of its tombstones”) are read in voice-over by Benedict Cumberbatch, and the fluid editing skillfully illustrates his words with disparate material — a mix that includes archival footage and movies like Roberto Rossellini’s “Paisan,” Mike Nichols’s “Catch-22” and Liliana Cavani’s “The Skin.”

This aesthetic choice — along with useless snippets of an actor, not clearly identified as such, playing Mr. Lewis as an old man returning to the city — doesn’t always seem fitting. You may at times wonder if Mr. Lewis, who died in 2003, would have chosen some of these clips. But the selection does lend an effective visual dimension to Mr. Lewis’s tales of wartime strife in the city. We hear of a lack of food and clean water; how Neapolitans resorted to prostitution and to buying goods on the black market; and how disease ran rampant through the city, taking it back to an almost medieval state. Mr. Lewis remembers the devastation of delayed-action explosive devices left by the Germans and the “slag heap” from the eruption of Vesuvius, just southeast of Naples, in March 1944.

It’s also a story of camaraderie; among Mr. Lewis’s Neapolitan friends was a man who made money posing as a fancy uncle from Rome at funerals. But colorful details like that don’t change the sense that “Naples ’44” is essentially an abridged version of a much more detailed work. It seems less a full-fledged movie than a trailer for a book.

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