Scen.: Ettore Giannini, Giuseppe Marotta, Remigio Del Grosso. F.: Piero Portalupi. M.: Nicolò Lazzari. Scgf.: Mario Chiari. Mus.: Raffaele Gervasio. Int.: Léonide Massine (Antonio Petito, Pulcinella), Achille Millo (figlio di Pulcinella), Clelia Matania (donna Concetta Esposito), Paolo Stoppa (Salvatore Esposito), Maria Fiore (donna Brigida), Tina Pica (Capera), Maria Pia Casilio (Nannina, ragazza del bacio), Giacomo Rondinella (Luigino), Sophia Loren (Sisina). Prod.: Carlo Ponti per Lux Film DCP. D.: 129’
Of the musical production that came out of Italy in the Fifties, this is the only film capable of holding its own and competing against the great American musicals. This is a result of the rigour and inventiveness of the delightful set design, the rich costumes (by Maria de Matteis), the strong links with musical tradition, and the perfect synthesis between theatrical and cinematic direction. The family of an itinerant storyteller (Paolo Stoppa) with deep historical roots – whose strength, patience and joy in life has allowed them to survive attacks by Saracen pirates, catastrophes, wars, famine, poverty and all the hardships that the centuries threw at them – provides the central narrative thread. Around this, Giannini brings the soul of his city to the screen through songs, places, gestures, colours and faces.
It begins with an ancient song, Michelemmà, and includes such Nineteenth and Twentieth century works as Funiculì funiculà, Santa Lucia lontana, Partono i bastimenti, O vita, o vita mia, and Quando spunta la luna a Marechiaro. Through a sort of enormous songbook of unique cultural and emotional intensity, the director follows and reveals the glorious and painful epic tale of the culture, civilization and people of Naples through a phantasmagorical play with lights, sounds and aromas. Then, at a certain point, he finds the perfect interpreter and mouthpiece for his tale in the mask of Pulcinella. If the films touches and moves the spectator throughout, the highlight is the death of Antonio Petito on the stage of the San Carlino and his son’s speech to audience in the theatre: “Dear public, my father is dead. He left me his mask, because we cannot let Pulcinella die”.
Thanks to the cinema, there are cities that continue to live and occupy a fixed place in the collective imagination. With this, his only film, Giannini can be credited with fixing forever in the post-war spectator’s mind an image and the spirit of a city that, despite everything, we cannot and will not let die.
Gian Piero Brunetta, “la Repubblica” 18 November 1990