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October 1, 2018

Ammore e Malavita

Imagine, if you will, the Sopranos meet Sondheim with a little Shakespeare thrown in. Add a love story that starts in childhood and you get Ammore—with the Neapolitan double m, Love—and Malavita—Bullets. Set along the docks of Naples and in full view of Vesuvius, Ammore e Malavita, with its twists and turns and striking songs and dance numbers, is both a quirky send-up of mafia movies and smart love letter to Naples, directed by brothers Marco and Antonio Manetti.

The film starts with a beautiful swooping descent into a funeral in progress. Right away, we sense there is something off—Dona Maria (a brilliant turn by Claudia Gerini) mourning her deceased husband Vincenzo (Carlo Buccirosso, looking wonderfully low-rent)—seems too theatrical, too glitzy. The others behind her are rolling their eyes, the priest looks unmoved.

But before we can put a finger on it, suddenly, we’re with the corpse in the coffin, singing his heart out, wondering how he got here and who the hell is Vincenzo?

Who, indeed?

Less than five minutes into the film, we’re grappling with questions- where IS Don Vincenzo? Who is the guy in the coffin? More importantly, just what is going on here?

And that’s just the beginning!

Just as quickly, we are drop-kicked into a flashback five days before—Vincenzo, a Camorra boss known as the “Fish King,” is observing his fish processing plant when a rival faction sends him a message in the form of an assassin wearing a shirt fit for a gallery opening. The assassin misses and Dona Maria, who is tired of the crime life anyway, dreams up a scheme inspired by one of her favorite James Bond films, “You Only Live Twice.”

But her plans get gummed up when a nurse, Fatima, played by the exuberant Serena Rossi, recognizes the “late” Don Vincenzo and has to be gotten rid of. Dona Maria sends her best, “The Tigers,” Ciro and his best friend Rosario to clean up.

And yet…

Despite what one might expect from a film set in Naples and starring the Camorra, The Naples of Ammore e Malavita isn’t the dark streets and even darker spirits that haunt the city in the larger imagination. Instead, the Manetti Brothers have given it a shining role in an almost traditional Neapolitan melodrama brimming with life, energy, and music. Along the way, they take on the fascination with the Camorra, issues with foreign workers, and even the Neapolitan weakness for a great love story with creative twists.

Adding to the ambiance is the soundtrack by Pico and Aldo de Scalzi, in turn glorious, strange, and oddly moving. In the midst of the tale are some surprisingly Shakespearean moments, made even more beautiful by songs that draw from the Neapolitan tradition of music with an exotic brooding twist. Francesco Ricciardi as the polished hit man, Gennaro, sings a mesmerizing solo on his way to kill an unsuspecting replacement for Don Vincenzo. The duet between Rosario (the incomparable Raiz) and Ciro as Rosario goes in for the kill makes the confrontation between the two friends that much more poignant.

The look of the film is no less remarkable. Francesca Amitrano, the relatively young cinematographer, lenses the film in lush shots, framing close-ups with astonishing clarity and letting the landscape breathe through the frame. Her montages are simply beautiful, and when Ciro goes after those seeking revenge for his “betrayal” of Don Vincenzo, with Jason Bourne-like efficiency, the sequence is all gorgeous shots and choreography.

Ammore e Malavita is like a welcome shock to the system. Between the show-stopping dance numbers and plot twists, Ammore e Malavita rises above its over-the-top beginnings to become an entertaining tale of revenge, elegant executions and an ending that is as satisfying as it is somewhat unexpected. A beautifully shot film with energetic highs and surprisingly profound moments, Ammore e Malavita lingers long after the music has died away and the last frame has faded.

By Rebecca Romani