My husband is Italian American and both of his grandfathers are from southern Italy, one from Calabria and the other from a little town near Naples called Bagnoli Irpino. We don’t know much about the Calebrese relatives but we have visited the ones in Bagnoli – it’s a wonderful little town. I think everyone was relying on me to speak Italian when we got there but thank God we found English-speaking cousins because I didn’t understand a word anybody was saying and I felt like an idiot ever having told anybody that I spoke Italian in the first place.
In director Luca Miniero’s 2010 “Benvenuti al Sud” I was a little vindicated because when postal employee Alberto (played by Claudio Bisio) gets transferred to a small town near Naples much like Bagnoli Irpino he has a hard time with the dialect, too – and he’s Italian.
Benvenuti al Sud is a comedy that was remade from the French comedy “ Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis” (Welcome to the Sticks) – and in this case “the sticks” are in the north of France and the desirable location is the south. But one country’s hang ups at a time – Italy is more like us in America. In Italy, as in the United States, the stereotypical “sticks” is more likely to be in the southern parts of the country.
Alberto and his family (his wife, Silvia played by Angela Finocchiaro) lives in a small town not far from Milan and dreams of moving to the big city but when Alberto applies for a transfer he learns that handicapped people are being shown preference. Alberto fails in his wacky, not very believable attempt to make superiors believe he’s needs a wheelchair to get around and his punishment is 2 years in the south.
Jamm Jà! (Does this mean “let’s go”? Everyone kept saying it and I’m still trying to figure it out.) Next thing you know, Alberto is heading for his new job near Naples. Because of the perceived crime, poverty and squalor he leaves Silvia and his son at home and tells them he’ll be back to visit every couple of weeks, but what he finds in his new home is not what he expected, of course, and his perceptions are challenged and changed.
When Americans make movies like this a lot of the time we get it all wrong, portraying the Northerners as big assholes that come to the south, thinking they’ll find bumpkins with low IQs and instead find the best people they’ve ever met. Benvenuti al Sud is more subtle, very sweet and surprisingly void of these tired movie stereotypes. I like how Miniero didn’t try to make the southern Italians all seem like adorable, too good to be true charactertures with hearts of gold nor did he vilify the north. He made everybody real people. He showed the differences between northerners and southerners without making one seem better than the other and without exaggeration.
Benvenuti al Sud is yet another one that I hope will make it here to the United States. The scenery is beautiful, the acting is great ( really love Angela Finocchiaro) and the theme is, obviously, universal.