‘Nostalgia’ Review: Leave Now and Never Come Back

The Italian director Mario Martone creates an expressive, economic depiction of crime and longing in this drama about a man coming home to Naples.

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By Teo Bugbee

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In the Italian drama “Nostalgia,” strangers watch the streets from their windows, closing the shutters when the comings and goings become too dangerous to witness. This is Naples, where shadows flit along the rooftops and curtains close after dark. The only figure who seems to move freely through the streets is Felice (Pierfrancesco Favino), a businessman who abandoned the city as a teenager, and who has returned for the first time in 40 years.

In his time away from Naples, Felice made a life for himself in Cairo. He’s married; he runs a successful business. But when his mother’s failing health brings him back to Naples, there is no hometown greeting cold enough to distract Felice from the warmth of his memories. In flashbacks, Felice recalls his misspent youth, which was passed alongside his best friend, Oreste. They raced motorcycles and swam in the sea. They committed petty crimes. These escalated to an act of murder. Now, Oreste (played as an adult by Tommaso Ragno) has become the kingpin of a Camorra criminal clan in Naples, and despite all warnings, Felice is desperate to find him.

The director Mario Martone cannily depicts Naples as a city that depends on furtive criminal codes, and he mixes elements of the thriller genre into his depiction of Felice’s return. Teenage sentinels maintain their fixed stations in the streets, but their eyes follow Felice. When Felice speaks, his questions are met with silence. Doors only seem to close and never open, and the residents of the city seem to reflexively hunch, as if straighter posture would mark them as targets. Martone’s depiction of crime is at once expressive and economic, a world of danger boiled down to pregnant pauses and minute gestures.

Not rated. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes. In theaters.

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