Roberto Saviano has been under 24-hour police escort since 2006, when Gomorrah, his non-fiction book about the Neapolitan mafia, shined a spotlight on the Camorra crime syndicate. Just 27 when the book was released, the young writer has received repeated death threats and now lives in hiding. But while Saviano's work has been seen as eye-opening outside of Naples, back home he has many detractors, people who think he is painting the wrong picture of the city. The mayor's office even set up an anti-slander office.

In this piece in La Stampa, Saviano refers to two Italian films to illustrate his position. Bicycle Thieves is the 1948 neorealism classic by Vittorio De Sica that tells the story of Antonio Ricci, who is desperate for work. The other film is We All Loved Each Other So Much, in which one of the characters lives in the town of Nocera Inferiore, only half an hour away from Naples.

-Essay-

When I return to Naples I am greeted with smiles, hugs, pats on the back, and this sentence: "Please, for once, just one time, say something nice about Naples."

As if there's pleasure in describing the wounds that afflict the place where you were born and spent the most important years of your life. But Saviano smears Naples, and smears Italy, and smears Germany, London and any place he touches or talks about.

There is a character in Ettore Scola's 1974 comedy We All Loved Each Other So Much: teacher Caprigno. In the film, he watches a projection, in a small village cinema, of Bicycle Thieves, De Sica's neorealist masterpiece. Disgusted by the film, he stands up and says: "Such works offend grace, poetry, beauty. These rags and these pieces of crap slander us vis-a-vis the world." And then: "One should wash one's dirty linen at home."

We All Loved Each Other So Much's Italian poster in 1974 – Source : IMDb

Sometimes I have the impression that we have never really come out of that small cinema in Nocera Inferiore, because our country is full of Caprignos. For them, telling a story means sugar-coating. There's no room for criticism. One must only throw smoke in the eyes, console and assure everyone that all is well.

But all is not well, and the commitment of those who fight for normality in Naples and, more generally, in Southern Italy, testify to this. This isn't a fight to have more, to be more competitive, to be the best. No, in many areas of our country we're just fighting for normality. And it's a fight we can't afford to ignore, but what we have here isn't normal.

In many areas of our country we're just fighting for normality

But Naples is synonym with sun, sea and culture, the censors claim. With the best pizza in the world, with songs, architecture and Caravaggio. Why don't you talk about this? I don't talk about it because it's all part of our wonderful complexity; each and every one of these wonders I mentioned comes with sweat, blood, dirt, corruption.

The beauty of Naples, isolated and sung to promote its image, is the best way to make it sterile. In the pages of Norman Lewis' Naples '44 there is the beauty of Naples, but it is full of pain, rapes, prostitutes, scum, injustice, backwardness, bad politics, superstition. And that's why it's a real beauty. If we were to judge Naples '44 from the shares of good and evil, we would destroy all of its literary power and reduce it to banal minestrone. We would not be able to notice the balance in the story and we would not be able to understand its complexity, its necessity: Naples as a universal story.

And yet, the Italy of teacher Caprigno asks for each story to be hagiography, a reverent narration. But Caprigno will never have the last word. In the film, teacher Palumbo replies: "Dear Mr. principal, we have watched a wonderful movie here tonight! With its toilets and its rags, it makes us recognize the true enemies of the community precisely from the false defenders of grace, poetry, beauty and all the other hypocritical values of your bourgeois culture."

Come on, let's all leave behind the small cinema in Nocera Inferiore and take a good look at Italy and at Naples. We will discover a fragile world, made up of toilets and dirty rags that we have to stop washing at home. You can either avert your eyes, or look and truly learn: The choice is yours.


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