They say home is where the heart is, but what happens when your home doesn’t feel the same way? That’s the very question that Mario Martone’s Nostalgia explores.
Based on Ermanno Rea’s novel of the same name, the Italian-French drama was recently selected by Italy to compete on its behalf for a Best International Feature Film nomination at the 95th Academy Awards. Co-written and directed by Martone, the film chronicles Felice Lasco’s (Pierfrancesco Favino) return home to Naples after 40 years away. Now a successful businessman in Egypt, Felice finds his mother, Teresa Lasco (Aurora Quattrocchi), living in near squalor as she’s lost her vision and ability to take care of herself. Also gone is Felice’s childhood home since his mother was bought out and moved to a glorified storage closet in the same building.
Felice does what he can to make up for lost time and buys his mother the essentials, leading to one of the film’s most memorable scenes in which he helps bathe his frail mother, something she’d done thousands of times for him as a child. “There’s a moment in life when you start to be a parent to your parents, and that is very touching,” Favino said during a recent THR Presents panel, powered by Vision Media. “We all were moved, and we were confident that that action was [saying] something that belongs to all the world. It’s something that speaks to us all.”
Added Martone: “In the book, this was the most important scene for me to make, but it was so difficult. There was a moment where we were about to lose the location, but we fought like a lion to keep it. There was a desire not to hide the flesh and body. We wanted to have the reality and truthfulness of this [moment]. It was a very scary scene, but we faced it.”
Since Felice revisits his childhood stomping grounds by foot and eventually by motorbike, the film flashes between the present and the past as he quite literally retraces his steps. To differentiate the 1970s-set flashbacks, Martone uses the classic 4:3 aspect ratio, harkening back to the Super 8mm-format of his own adolescence in the ’70s. “The story is also a trip through time,” says Martone. “So the choice of something like Super 8 is very close to me.”
Nostalgia keeps its cards close to its chest in the early going, revealing very little about why Felice left Naples so abruptly in the first place. But through his present-day interactions and memories, it becomes increasingly clear that his departure has something to do with Oreste Spasiano (Tommaso Ragno), Felice’s best friend growing up. Despite the objections of some old family friends, Felice insists on reconnecting with an older Oreste. Absence may have made Felice’s heart grow fonder for Oreste, but the latter’s heart has only hardened. In fact, he was the individual who bought Felice’s childhood home and displaced his mother. “Oreste is missing something. There’s a longing inside of him,” Martone says, with Favino serving as translator. “By buying Felice’s house, he’s getting payback for the abandonment that he feels.”
The film begins as a family drama of sorts, but halfway through, it shifts genres to that of a crime drama, more or less coinciding with the revelation that Oreste is now a much-feared Neapolitan gangster. As Felice gets closer and closer to finding Oreste, the dark past that the two men share begins to unveil itself, and despite repeated warnings to go back to Egypt, Felice just can’t help himself. “Felice is a very courageous and brave guy. He’s a guy who decides to follow his feelings instead of what the world is telling him is his happiness,” Favino shares. “We come from a place where we feel we belong. Sometimes, it’s a doomed place.”
This edition of THR Presents is presented by Dada Films.
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