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Tag: Alessandro Nivola

QuickView: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

The Many Saints of Newark

“After he murdered me, Tony gave my wife and baby his pocket change. But that was much later.”

Christopher Moltisanti

There are considerable similarities between The Many Saints of Newark and El Camino: both provide an extension to a beloved prestige TV drama, both expertly recreated the tone and visual identity of the series, and both feel somewhat superfluous. At first I gave The Many Saints of Newark a wide berth, expecting banal fan service in a world without James Gandolfini. Although this prequel is filled with younger versions of familiar characters (including Gandolfini’s son playing a teenage Tony), its best decision is the focus on Dickie Moltisanti who never appeared in the show — this affords Alessandro Nivola the freedom to build out the character without paying homage to another performance, as well as delivering a full arc. Despite the 15 years that have passed, the involvement of creator David Chase as well as veterans from the show in directing and production design capacities makes this feel entirely set in the same world, notwithstanding the shift in era, beginning with the 1967 Newark riots. The script explores familiar themes: the dangerous tension between family and mob life, with infidelity and betrayal punctuated by explosive violence without indulging in it. Unfortuantely this is offset by what seems to be a half-hearted attempt to set up future story options, including a black American perspective (something decidedly absent in The Sopranos) that leaves incomplete storylines with thinly sketched characters. The resulting period gangster movie is something that begins to feel more like a Scorcese short film (at “just” two hours), compelling but without the nuanced depth of character and relationships that made The Sopranos such a landmark, an enduring legacy that The Many Saints of Newark neither tarnishes nor revitalises.


QuickView: Disobedience (2017)

“So, what is this thing? Man? Woman? It is a being with the power to disobey. Alone among all the creatures we have free will. We hang suspended between the clarity of the angels and the desires of the beasts.”

Rav Krushka

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s thoughtful drama, adapted from a novel by Naomi Alderman, follows Ronit as she returns to an Orthodox Jewish community in London after her estranged father’s death, stirring emotions when reunited with her childhood best friend. Ronit’s past emerges naturally from the narrative which is as much about losing a community as it is about religion and temptation. Food plays a central cultural role and we see in Rachel Weisz’s face the transportive flavours conjuring childhood memories. Disobedience takes a nuanced and restrained approach to religious trauma, directly challenging the denial of choice and freedom to those raised within rigid belief systems whilst avoiding the temptation to vilify the community itself. Alessandro Nivola is striking in his gentle supportiveness, a faithful disciple of Ronit’s father who has become a respected rabbi, yet he bristles with anger when his authority is challenged. Indeed restraint is evident throughout Disobedience, the film’s muted colour palette fitting an environment in which conflicts are rarely voiced directly. Returning to London reinforces the cost of Ronit’s escape which is losing an entire community and particularly her friend Esti. Diegetic use of The Cure’s Lovesong during a pivotal scene serves a dual purpose with the lyric “You make me feel like I am home again.” Although we experience events largely through Ronit’s perspective, it is Esti who provides the story arc as Ronit’s return forces her to grapple with her own decision to remain in the community. Disobedience may not offer the cathartic relief that some former believers might desire, but it is more meaningful as a result — it ventures beyond mere escapism to underscore the cost of that escape.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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