John Turturro has made a film for the ages from the ages. It is called “Passione” and it is worth whatever you have to do get to see it. From the 700-year history and tradition of music in Naples, this masterful actor/director has culled, sculpted and enabled 23 songs to represent a city, a people, a complicated ethos and the most basic unvarnished portrait of a culture’s libido imaginable.

Trust me — there is no hyperbole in that description.

I heard Mr. Turturro speak just two days before I saw this film. He spoke of Naples as a troubled place with a life and an identity that is mysterious and seducing. A place that is alive with something undeniable — not simple joy, but complex and sensual commitment to living in a place that knows suffering, acknowledges mortality, is tortured by human frailty and dignified by understanding. Through it all, there is the music, the musicians, the belief in a code of excellence and the willingness to debate who has reached it.

That is just the beginning.

Many of the songs in this film (and this movie is virtually all songs, with a few vignettes of citizens of Naples and a bit of truly inspired on-camera narration by Turturro himself) were recorded live on film, yet they are as complete and perfected as they would have been had they been staged with dozens of takes and serious choreography.

There are many captivating stories about the making of the film, the choice of which songs and which versions would be included, the small budget and the 21 days of filming the entire picture. There are many moments when you will realize you are experiencing more than you do in a scripted film, because there is absolutely no gratuitous play on your emotions — there are only the emotions themselves, emotions that arise out of the music and the impulses to write and perform it.

There is not one cliché. And in a film that includes renditions of “O Sole Mio” and “Mala Femina,” that is saying something. Suffice it to say, you will carry Turturro’s treatment of “Pistol Packin’ Mama” with you forever. And you will revisit World War II as you do.

While there is no praise enough for the cinematic achievement of “Passione” (Read A.O Scott’s review if you want a true expert’s praise of this cinematic miracle), there is one artistic decision that trumps all the others. And that is the screen presence and prominence of women who are more than mature. In this film we see women whose wisdom is written in the creases on their faces, whose allure is not faded, whose passion is intact and whose powers are enduring.

When Turturro spoke the other night, he addressed this. What I remember may be paraphrased here, but I am certain of the jist of it: It’s easy to fall in love when you are young. But that’s all it is, falling in love. It takes experience to understand love and that’s what I wanted to portray. These are real women and they are beautiful.

And they are beautiful. Beautiful and experienced and sure. Surely that is reason enough to see “Passione,” but there are dozens, maybe hundreds of others. In one scene we see a discussion of the genius of Enrico Caruso. Clearly, he had a power and purity of tone that will never dim. Turturro has achieved exactly this with “Passione” — a power and purity in portraying a city through its songs. The city is Naples. The film is simply amazing.

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  • J Finalborgo July 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Wow. Have to see this one.

  • b. elliott July 2, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Can’t wait to experience this!