A flurry of Italian influence filled my Minnesota home in 2004.
I was wrapping up a collegiate research paper on Italian immigration, and a young Italian woman — a fellow classmate — had recently caught my attention. Incidentally, I discovered a plethora of Italian films via The Criterion Collection at Barnes & Noble. Life was good. Plus, I was preparing for my first trip to Italy; an excursion that would put me in Rome just two days after college graduation and on my birthday (Cinco de Mayo). As it turned out, I didn’t get the girl nor was I able to make the trip to Italy. However, my artistic and traveling ambitions received a major boost thanks to a Neapolitan filmmaker named Francesco Rosi.
The world lost a great director over the weekend, as Rosi passed away at age of 92 in Rome. I will always remember him as someone who inspired me to look deeper into my family’s Neapolitan background and the great landscape of Italian cinema. I’ll never forget the first time I watched Salvatore Giuliano or the day when both Tre Fratelli (Three Brothers) and Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) arrived in the mail on VHS. It would be another couple years until I left home for a new life in Hollywood and another five years until I set foot in Italy for the first time, but once I finally reached Napoli, the films of Francesco Rosi were swirling in my head.
In 2009, I planned a 31-day European backpacking trip to end specifically in Naples, so I could have a few days to explore the region. My ancestors were raised in nearby Solofra, and my Great-Grandma Mamie (Filomena) left Napoli for the United States just twenty years before Rosi was born in the same city. Ultimately, the Italian filmmaker would make a political film about Naples, Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City), which won the Golden Lion Award at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.
Even though my family members and friends weren’t thrilled with my decision to roam about Naples, the experience meant the world to me. In fact, I would return in 2012 to work on organic farms for three months, and a scenic ferry ride to Ischia produced a Rosi-inspired picture to capture the moment.
Two weeks later, I found myself on a bus ride from Salerno to Taranto and in a familiar yet foreign destination: Eboli. I instantly remembered Rosi’s 1979 film, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) and laughed at how far I had come — literally and figuratively — since those days in 2004.
R.I.P Francesco Rosi