Norman Lewis was a British journalist and soldier stationed in Naples during World War II. While there he kept a diary which, thirty years later, he worked up into the highly acclaimed book Naples ’44. A documentary based on it and sharing its title showed at SIFF yesterday under the auspices of their Cinema Italian Style showcase. It was not good.
The film (directed by Francesco Patierno) consists of Benedict Cumberbatch reading selections from Naples ’44 as we watch archival footage - some of which is newly released - of Naples during the war. Interspersed with this are prolonged and distracting clips from later films also set in that time and place, such as Mike Nichols’s Catch-22 or Il Re di Poggioreale with Ernest Borgnine and Keenan Wynn. There is also original footage featuring a middle-aged white man in casual dress wandering in slow motion through the woods, then over smoking piles of debris, and finally in contemporary Naples. Who is he? Norman Lewis? A modern everyman retracing Lewis’s step? We’re never told.
In short, this film feels like an audiobook masquerading as a documentary, and I can’t escape the conclusion that spending an hour and a half with Lewis’s book itself would probably have been a more rewarding experience.