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ErN 122   

eapolitans in Milan (film)

        Eduardo de Filippo in Napoletani a Milano     

Napoletani a Milano is a comedy in the classic sense that it has a happy ending and, indeed, a number of scenes that make you laugh. Other than that, it is a film about the plight of southern workers in the north of Italy, juxtaposing the stereotypes of the shiftless, scheming Neapolitans and the heartless, greedy Milanese industrial bosses. It is an unusual film for Eduardo de Filippo to have made and, indeed, the very first film he wrote specifically for the screen (as opposed to adapting one of his own plays). He wrote the screenplay with Age & Scarpelli (Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli), the most famous screenwriting pair in the history of Italian cinema. I saw the film for the first time the other night; I had not heard of it before.

The film is from 1953 and Eduardo stars in it, himself, as the “mayor” (never elected, but popularly acknowledged to be the leader) of a community of shanty-dwellers in Naples in the grim years following World War II, before there was any glimmer at all of the economic miracle that later transformed much of Italy. These people live amidst rubble and are about to be dispossessed of what little they have by the Milanese owners of the property who have decided to build a factory with no thought for those who will be displaced. That would be stereotype number one (S1), the heartless industrialists. Stereotype number two (S2), the conniving Neapolitans, presents itself in the scheme to get the property declared a national monument because Garibaldi once lived there (he didn’t); S2b is the plan to kidnap the Milanese engineer (played by American actor, Frank Latimore) in charge of operations by luring him into an elevator in an abandoned building and hand-cranking him (nothing in the building works—it is four walls) to the top and leaving him there like a canary.

Things get serious when a building at the construction site collapses, killing five persons who have refused to be evicted. Eduardo leads 50 Neapolitans to the frozen, fog-bound north (Milan) for a redress of grievances. S2c is the scene where Eduardo presents the group to the coven of greedy capitalists as the “relatives of the victims” (they aren’t), who appropriately and on cue start wailing and keening as if they were at a funeral in Naples. S1b is the bosses wondering—their only concern—about the bad press they are going to get from all this. Then, they accuse: “These aren’t even the real relatives. You’re just a bunch of scheming Neapolitans trying to get something for nothing.”

Eduardo answers, “Five people still died and you offered to do nothing. Would it make any difference to you if these really were the relatives?”

Stand-off of the stereotypes. The Milanese offer no money but offer jobs to all those in the group that had come from Naples, “knowing” that the lazy southerners won’t want to hang around up north actually working when they could be at home in the sunny south waiting for the living that the world owes them. Touché and three-shay, the lazy southerners take the jobs in the factory, do very well and make common cause with their northern co-workers during an industrial dispute, which was the point of the film all along —common cause, we are all Italians.

In a medium-is-the-message way, the film borrows from neo-Realism in employing a large number of non-actors right off the street even for prominent roles, as if to say “We are all equals—actors, non-actors, southerners, northerners.” In a plea for unity, Eduardo says, “What a shame we have to call these things ‘trains' and travel from city to city, Naples to Milan. If we called them ‘trams’ and just wrote ‘Via Posillipo—Piazza del Duomo’ on the side, everything would seem closer; it would be like living in one big city.” Indeed, that is the way film ends—fading out on a tram just leaving via Posillipo in Naples for its short trip to the other side of town, Piazza del Duomo in Milan, just 650 km/400 mi away.

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