In season seven, episode 11 of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations the potty-mouth American chef follows the ‘red sauce trail’ from Little Italy, Manhattan to Napoli, Italia. Examining the differences between Italian-American and Neapolitan cuisine, the first stop is, of course, an authentic pizzeria in the birthplace of pizza. There’s more to Naples than just pizza though and Bourdain samples top-notch spaghetti alla puttanesca, deep-fried octopus and Sunday lunch cooked by an 80-year-old, cigarette-smoking mamma.
Full of 1960s kitsch, It Started in Naples tells the story of an American man who travels to Napoli to settle his dead brother’s estate. After discovering his brother had a son, romance predictably blossoms with the boy’s Italian aunt. Much of the film is set in nearby Capri but the opening scenes do a good job of depicting how chaotic Naples can be. Starring Clark Gable, Sophia Loren and Vittorio De Sica.
Combining evocative historical footage with sweeping present-day scenes and a voiceover by Benedict Cumberbatch, Naples ’44 is an atmospheric documentary film based on the memoirs of British journalist and author Norman Lewis. Lewis was posted to Naples during World War II and chronicled the aftermath of Fascism, heavy bombing and Nazi occupation on the city’s inhabitants.
Directed by Vittorio De Sica (whose other works includes the massively influential Bicycle Thieves), L’Oro di Napoli is an anthology of stories set in Naples, where De Sica spent his first years. As well as Sophia Loren, the film also stars two of Naples’ most famous actors, Eduardo De Filippo and Totò. Born Antonio De Curtis in the Sanitá district, Totò became one of Italy’s most treasured comic actors.
While this film certainly goes heavy on the stereotypes, it’s also brimming with beautiful backdrops of the bel paese and it’s in Italy that Elizabeth Gilbert, played by Julia Roberts, discovers the true pleasure of nourishment. Neapolitan pizza really is as life-changing as the film portrays and, as the protagonist explains, it should be eaten and enjoyed without guilt – particularly if it’s from the renowned Pizzeria da Michele.
The entire three series of Italy Unpacked feel like being on holiday with two easygoing and knowledgeable tour guides. Thanks to chef Georgio Locatelli and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, Italy’s rich tapestry of culture and cuisine is presented in an accessible and engaging way. In series two, episode three, the pair visit Naples and discover how Greek, Roman, French and Spanish empires have left their mark on the city – trying local specialities, like sartù (a stuffed-rice timbale) and rum-soaked babà, along the way.
Set in the suburbs of Naples, Gomorrah is a fictional TV adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s real-life book about the Camorra, Napoli’s organised crime syndicate. The series follows the ugly, violent world of the Savastano clan and explores how corruption touches all shades of society, from government officials to ordinary families. The third season aired in November 2017 and there are already plans for a fourth, but don’t forget to check out the 2008 film of the same name (also based on Saviano’s book), which shattered the trope of the Mafioso wise guy.
Passione is a 2010 documentary film directed by John Turturro, the instantly recognisable – even if not instantly nameable – star of The Big Lebowski and O, Brother Where Art Thou?. Turturro guides the viewer through Naples’ rich musical heritage and introduces contemporary performers like Fiorenza Calogero and James Senese. His musical adventure also takes in historic Neapolitan artists such as operatic tenor Enrico Caruso, whose 25-year career included performances at the New York Met and the Royal Opera House in London.
Director Matteo Garrone dives into the world of reality television with his story of a man obsessed with starring in Big Brother – known as Grande Fratello in Italy. After his friends persuade him to audition, his obsession starts to pollute all aspects of his life and he becomes convinced he’s being watched by hidden cameras set up by show executives. This engrossing tale of a disturbed mind won the Grand Prix award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
Due to a clerical error, schoolteacher Marco Sperelli is sent to work in a small town near Naples instead of a school in his native northern Italy. A fish out of water in Italy’s poor south, Sperelli struggles to connect with his students. A series of heartwarming and humorous events later, however, and he receives a letter from a student with the phrase Io speriamo che me la cavo – roughly translating to ‘as for me, let’s hope I make it’ – suggesting he managed to make a difference after all.