STREET TANGO Arrangiarsi: Pizza and the Art of Living takes viewers on a journey to discover the secret of classic Neapolitan pizza and living a simple life, screening on Sept. 8 at the Palm Theatre.
What's it worth? Full price
Where's it showing? Saturday, Sept. 8, at The Palm (4:15 p.m.; $12 at eventbrite.com)
Bay Area filmmaker Matteo Troncone helms this documentary about the pizza of Naples, Italy, but it's really about much more—the history of Italy, how to survive poverty, and most importantly how to enjoy life free from the rat race.
As the film opens, Troncone's life is in shambles. His girlfriend broke up with him over email, the budding actor just learned he wasn't chosen for the biggest role of his career, and he's suddenly homeless, living in a 1985 VW van. Working up the Big Sur coast at Esalen Institute, he's handed a free ticket to Italy, so he decides to visit Naples, home of his father's poorer side of the family. There, he learns about "arrangiarsi," the art of arranging yourself in whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
Over the course of the documentary, Troncone interviews makers of traditional Neapolitan pizza as well as the producers of the ingredients—tomato growers, wheat farmers and flour millers, buffalo ranchers, and mozzarella makers. He hears theories about why Naples pizza is the best—Mt. Vesuvius soil and the lava flowing deep under Naples' ancient city, the vibrancy of the people and their culture, even the water, which he actually takes samples of, brings home to San Francisco, and has tested. It's got high mineral content, FYI.
It's a real foodie film, but it's also about Naples itself, its history, its people, how it was treated post-reunification of Northern and Southern Italy. There're politics, the mafia, and how street musicians and artists see the city. This is a film in love with Naples and determined to make you love it too.
It's also about Troncone's personal journey, not just to Italy but through life, the choices he makes to free himself from "the wheel," as he describes the 9-to-5 grind. He shows us the Neapolitan way of arranging oneself, but he can't always follow the sage advice he's found. He runs out of money, his wallet is stolen, his camera breaks down. All his talk of making lemonade when life hands you lemons sometimes goes to the wayside. It's a slice of honest, real life. It's also a reminder that life can get messy no matter how hard you try to arrange it otherwise.
This is a very low-budget film mainly shot on handheld camcorder. It's somewhat disjointed, moving through time, back and forth from Italy to the U.S., and along various plot paths. The film's chaos in some way mirrors the chaos of life in Naples, a giant metropolis that isn't managed effectively, that suffers from crime, but whose people embrace the chaos, both feeding it and feeding off of it. The film proves one thing is certain: Even without money, talent and tenacity is enough to make a quality film. La vita è bella! Ciao! (91 min.; arrangiarsifilm.com)