Thursday, May 31, 2018

Open Roads ’18: Naples in Veils

This is the other Naples—the city we never see in films like Gomorrah. It is a center of great art and architecture, but death remains a constant presence there. Indeed, those cobblestone alleyways are both romantic and ominous in Ferzan Ozpetek’s Naples in Veils (trailer here), which screens during Open Roads: New Italian Cinema 2018.

After one scorching hot night with Andrea, Adriana is convincing he must be the one. Therefore, she is rather disappointed when he fails to show for their date the next day. The good news is he did not intentionally stand her up. The bad news is he happens to be on her slab at the medical examiner’s office. He wasn’t merely murdered. He was also blinded and disfigured. Looks like a Camorra warning killing to us, but nobody comes to that conclusion in this film.

Already reeling from horror and disappointment, Adriana starts seeing Andrea’s doppelganger throughout the city. That would be Luca, his twin brother, who was separately adopted out while both were still in infancy. Luca’s planned meeting with Andrea never happened, but he needs little encouragement to pick up with Adriana where his brother left off. Of course, they both agree to keep his kept-man presence in her flat secret, for fear his brother’s killers will then come looking for him. This definitely includes the police and even Antonio, the rumpled detective falling for her. Much to her own surprise, Adriana also starts feels a degree of attraction to him as well, further complicating matters.

The Naples of Gomorrah is nowhere to be found in the lush, sophisticated Veils, which should do wonders for the city’s tourist trade. The locales are exquisitely cinematic, while the drama itself is unapologetically steamy. It mostly qualifies as a psychological thriller in the tradition of De Palma’s Obsession, but there are also oblique hints of the supernatural. Yet, the really cool thing about the film is the extent to which its twists and turns are rooted in the city’s macabre lore.

Giovanna Mezzogiorno is absolutely terrific as the haunted (in whichever sense of the word) Adriana, proving you do not need to look like a CGI-enhanced supermodel to heat up the screen. Nobody will nod off during her scenes with Alessandro Borghi (as both brothers), but she is at her best playing with and off Adriana’s extended family and family friends, who constitute Naples old guard. Anna Buonaiuto is wonderfully tart-tongued and regal as Aunt Adele, while Beppe Barra is practically the soul of Naples incarnate as old ribald Pasquale.

Frankly, the merits of the ending are debatable, but it is a pleasure getting there. Watching Veils is like a sipping a series of cappuccinos on the city’s piazzas. Ozpetek masterfully commands the film’s seductive mood and even manages to pull off a surprise or two through misdirection. It may very well be his best film yet. Very highly recommended, Naples in Veils screens this Saturday (6/2) at the Walter Reade as part of this year’s Open Roads (and it can also be seen at the Seattle International Film Festival on 6/2, 6/5, and 6/6).