‘Parthenope’ Review: Paolo Sorrentino’s Love Affair With Naples Continues But This Time Through The Eyes Of A Woman – Cannes Film Festival

Paolo Sorrentino has done a wide range of films but until his most personal, The Hand of God two years ago (a prize winner in Venice), he had not returned to Naples, the land of his youth, except for the very first feature he made, 2001’s One Man Up. Since then though, he has been to Cannes with his films six times, and his impressive list of movies have included The Consequences of Love, Il Divo, Loro and his Oscar-winning The Great Beauty. There have been more mixed reactions for his starry English-language films like Youth and This Must Be the Place, but Italy seems to drive his creative mojo and may be closest to his heart in the current phase of his filmmaking career when he has found new inspiration by going back to his youth, first in Hand of God which closely reflected his own coming of age in Naples, and now his latest, Parthenope, which reflects the youth he wished he had experienced (instead, he moved away to a whole new career in film, as was indicated at the end of Hand of God).

Parthenope, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday night, is not only a return to the part of Italy with which Sorrentino feels such a connection, but it also happens to be the first movie he has made told from the point of view of a woman. I am not sure why it has taken that long for this new phase, but he has said there is a reason for that: He wanted a woman as his alter ego this time because in telling the story of a heroic journey, as he puts it, it is important to highlight females who he feels have had to overcome and survive much more than men in society, and as a filmmaker it is clearly time to spotlight that.

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And what a title character he has in Parthenope to do just that. Born in 1950 in the Bay of Napoli and named by someone on the spot as they point to the land of this once ancient Greek settlement and now part of Naples populated by Parthenopians, she is played exquisitely by Celeste Dalla Porta; she is someone who has spent her summers memorably with some of the region’s most colorful characters. In fact, it seems Sorrentino may be most interested in reflecting the place as much as this young woman to whom men are attracted like a magnet. She clearly wants more but enjoys the company. Early on we see her intellectual curiosity that sets her apart from many of the citizens.

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She becomes something of a disciple of her anthropology professor (Silvio Orlando), a subject she is very much drawn to, as clearly is Sorrentino, whose films are often a smörgåsbord of humanity to study. She sits in the sun reading John Cheever books, and lo and behold, eventually meets an aging and seemingly depressed-looking man in a dapper hat who will reveal himself to be the actual John Cheever. Gary Oldman drops in for a couple of scenes to play the role. One very poignant and reflective moment has him confessing to Parthenope that he could be attracted to her except he “likes men better.” There is also the hotshot actress she meets along the way, introduced to her by the savvy Flora Malva (Isabella Ferrari). That “star,” Greta Cool (played to the hilt by Luisa Rainieri), is real piece of work. There is also the local Bishop (Peppe Lanzetta), another real piece of work who seems more interested in Parthenope for a sexual experience rather than a religious one.

Closer to her age and romantic inclination is Sandrino (Dario Aita), who hangs with her and her brother Raimondo (Daniele Rienzo) on an outing for the three along the shoreline that finds Raimondo left out for their romantic interlude, a harbinger of darker things to come. The story spans decades really, all the way up into Parthenope’s older age (where she is played by Italian movie legend Stefania Sandrelli) and there will be no spoiler alert here to reveal just who she has become, but it comprises some of the film’s most satisfying moments.

Porta is a real find in the title role, one of those stunning Italian actresses that remind you of a young Claudia Cardinale or Monica Bellucci. There must be something in the water in Italy! Spanning an age range of 18 to 35 she holds this all together even when Sorrentino takes the situations a little overboard into caricature. The rest of the cast, including Oldman’s brief but moving turn and Sandrelli’s lovely work at the end, deliver lots of flavor. Shout-out to his returning cinematographer Daria D’Antonio who has a lot to work with on these gorgeous locations and doesn’t disappoint with the visuals. There is also a beautiful score as well by Lela Marchitelli.

Overall it is the memories of youth in Naples and Capri that drive this narrative, the moments to cherish in our lives, and that is no different for Sorrentino as he creates the missing youth he never had. Fortunately he gets to live it in the movies.

Title: Parthenope
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Distributor: A24 Films
Director-screenwriter: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Celeste Dalla Porta, Gary Oldman, Stefania Sandrelli, Luisa Ranieri, Silvio Orlando, Peppe Lanzetta, Isabella Ferrari, Daniele Rienzo, Dario Aita
Running time: 2 hr 16 min

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