In one of the last issues of Inkroci I referred to the book/movie Harold and Maude as to a ‘little miracle’, since the movie version proved to be even better than the book it was inspired from. I cannot say the same for Il resto di niente, directed by Antonietta De Lillo (2004), whose staging does not measure up to the book from which it is taken (yet a hard try, since the novel by Enzo Striano, although little known, is a masterpiece of twentieth-century Italian literature).
This is neither due to the quality of direction nor to the acting (the performance of Maria De Madeiros, who plays the main character, is very good indeed), but to the following reasons. When I read the novel, I realised for the very first time the role that literature should have in anyone’s life: that of being a time machine, which picks up the reader, wherever he/she is, and throws him/her in history, making him/her its protagonist or at least the witness of its tale.
Il resto di niente is the visionary dream of a twofold revolution. There is a revolution which is part of History, i.e. the 1799 revolts in Naples in which young aristocrats fought for the ideas of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ that were blossoming at that time of rupture with the past and hope for a better world; and there is another revolution (as great as that) led by Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca, a modern, cultured, brave Portuguese noblewoman who, within the struggle for her people’s liberty, dreamed of freeing women from their ancestral condition of subordination in family and society.
Naples is constantly in the background, a lively city whose streets relentlessly swarm with people. Coming out of the book’s pages, with dazzling vehemence, are intense sunlight brightening and burning skins, people’s shouting, yelling and cursing, the scent of foods and the stink of rubbish left at every corner. In other words, the daily existence of people who are lively and active despite their everlasting trouble, which still exist today and almost suggest a fate that seems inevitable, as if it were embedded in Naples’ nature.
The movie’s directorial style goes exactly in the opposite direction: the city, which is the setting of the story, is given very little space, whilst the focus is entirely on the protagonist. The camera always penetrates her gaze, which in its melancholy (perhaps in order to mirror this feeling the movie is often dark, gloomy, mainly shot indoor or outdoor at night time) almost anticipates the tragedy (not only a personal one) which is going to happen shortly, when a city’s revolutionary dream falls to pieces, cracking, crushing. There will not be any of those big ideas of social change left: there will only be the remains of nothing.