40 years after leaving Naples in a cloak-and-dagger operation, Felice Lasco returns to his hometown. He had never wanted to set foot in Italy again, but his wife back in Cairo convinced him. Upon seeing his mother’s declining health, Felice is grateful for the chance to be there for her. Gradually, he warms to the place of his childhood, but when word gets around of his reemergence, he has to learn that not everybody welcomes him with open arms.
The topic of nostalgia is so ever-present in film, it seems an integral part of its storytelling, which Mario Martone avails himself of. In his most recent feature, his character’s memories are depicted in Academy ratio, contrasting with the “real-time” footage of the main action. Back in his new/old world, Felice retraces his steps and makes vigil-like visits the places of his past. There is an incisive scene at the beginning, which displays the reversal of care from mother to son, when the 55-year-old washes the elderly woman’s frail body in an oversized tub.
The Italian director manages to infuse even small and nonverbal sequences with genuine personality, where any other filmmaker may have simply seen an intermediate shot and abandoned it altogether. But Martone shows it all and makes it interesting: the walk up a flight of stairs, the way Felice’s finger doesn’t immediately find the doorbell, his struggle to remember the specific word he is looking for in conversation.
Pierfrancesco Favino is brilliant as he plays Felice as an endearing figure, at times borderline awkward – when he tries to buy underwear for his mother – but also infuriatingly naive.
The feature’s tone turns sinister as more of Felice’s past is revealed, and this shift may not carry with it the viewers who came for a rose-tinted look at Italy’s south. But without particular expectations of plot points or genre, this is a rewarding experience about reopening wounds of the past.
Nostalgia does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
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Watch the trailer for Nostalgia here: