If one needed to see indisputable evidence that German New Cinema dandy auteur Werner Schroeter (Eika Katappa, Der Rosenkönig aka The Rose King) was more than a morbidly depressed diva addict with an immaculate and wildly idiosyncratic knack for communicating his campy cognitive dissonance on screen in a solely tableau-obsessed manner, one just needs to see his kraut-Guido neo-neorealist flick Nel regno di Napoli (1978) aka Neapolitanische Geschichten aka The Reign of Naples aka The Kingdom of Naples—a decidedly decadent yet refined Teutonic look at the Southern Italian proletarian soul over a three decade period created by a German man who spent enough time in the city of Naples as a student to appreciate the most forsaken families of the intrinsically impoverished post-industrial wasteland. Schroeter’s first feature shot on 35mm film stock and a work that would earn the filmmaker the 1979 German Film Prize for “Best Direction” in a country that thought of him as a "art cut," The Kingdom of Naples depicts a brother and sister from a poor-as-dirt family from their births at the time of the end of fascism in the city to the equally dystopian early 1970s, otherwise known as the “Bourbon era” of Naples, when it seemed liked there was no hope for the hopeless in the spiritually devitalized, increasingly Americanized South Italian metropolis. Essentially beginning where Italian Freudian-Marxist auteur Bernardo Bertolucci’s sickeningly sentimental and superficial com-symp epic 1900 (1976) aka Novecento left off, albeit using all Italian actors (both professional and non-professional), The Kingdom of Naples brings a certain ‘pessimistic pep’ via Schroeter's sharp operatic direction and dandy colorfulness to the seemingly static neorealist genre, thus giving the destitute characters of the film a certain sense of dignity that even eclipses the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini (Mamma Roma, Teorema), but without portraying them in a soulless, idealistic and propagandistic Marxist manner. While German New Cinema alpha-auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder found his friend Schroeter’s second excursion in quasi-neorealism, Palermo oder Wolfsburg aka (1980) Palermo or Wolfsburg, to be one of the “most disappointing” films of Teutonic cinema, he regarded his celluloid compatriot's flick The Kingdom of Naples as one of the best of the post-WWII Fatherland, even writing a highly flattering essay in tribute to the film and filmmaker behind it. In his 1979 essay “Chin-up, Handstand, Salto Mortale—Firm Footing: On the Film Director Werner Schroeter, Who Achieved What Few, Achieve, with Kingdom of Naples,” Fassbinder wrote: “A great and important film. Incredible, after the terrible years of waiting, always on the verge of simply drying up. A film that without hesitation can be classed with Ossessione by Visconti, La Strada by Fellini, Mamma Roma by Pasolini, Rocco and His Brothers by Visconti, Les bonnes femmes by Chabrol, Le diable probablement by Bresson, The Exterminating Angel by Buñuel, and others like that.” Indeed, The Kingdom of Naples is indisputable proof that at least one German filmmaker, Werner Schroeter, was able to do the seemingly impossible by getting inside the most miserable pockets of the Mediterranean soul and exposing it for the entire world to see, thus illustrating that the Third World is not the only place where people are literally starving, but also ancient old world Europe.
Although a largely narrative-driven work with a fictional linear plot (albeit based on real-life events director Werner Schroeter personally read in newspapers) told in sixteen episodes, The Kingdom of Naples also acts as a seamless documentary film-within-a-film that chronicles the history of events that took place in Naples from 1943-1972 and that ultimately acts as the chronicled skeleton of the film. Beginning in 1943, the viewer learns that Naples was the first Italian city to be liberated by Italian fascism (apparently, they literally killed German soldiers for food, thus forcing the troops to abandon the city) and, naturally, by 1946 there were virtually nil jobs for men, but that is the least of the people’s problems because as a bold and beautiful yet bitchy middle-aged lady named Valeria Cavioli (Liana Trouche) states—thus symbolically illustrating the matriarchal essence of Italian society—to a group of jobless men after the birth of baby named Vittoria Pagano, “What idiots, these men. During the war, all they can make are girls.” Vittoria has an older brother named Massimo and like their parents—the father (Dino Mele) being a fiercely fanatical anti-Catholic and the mother (Renata Zamengo) being a dearly devout Catholic—they are quite the opposites and they will grow further apart in political and social persuasion as they come-of-age in war-torn Southern Europa. Next door lives a callous widow named Valeria and her dainty daughter Rosa (Laura Sodano), whose malicious mother trades her damned daughter’s virginity to a chocolate-wielding black U.S. sailor for a mere bag of flour with “U.S.A.” stamped on it, thus irreparably destroying the innocent girl’s sense of person dignity for what will be the rest of her miserable life. Indeed, such dehumanizing acts are the norm in the impoverished ghettos of post-WWII Naples, where rich pedophiles conspire to lure in proletarian children with their exotic pet fish and fat cat Catholic priests wallow in their own gluttony as their followers starve in a ghetto right next door to the church. As narrated in The King of Naples, by 1948, “a progressive economic model, which turned out to be extremely reactionary in nature. Free reign for the employer who exploits the workers. Repression and exploitation in the factories…The Pope also prays to the Holy Mother to bring about a miracle, so the people vote for the Christian Democrats.” Of course, the potential “miracle” is not of a Christian Democrat persuasion, but an atheist Marxist sort. Not unsurprisingly, when mother Pagano dies in a martyr-like manner as she allegorically bleeds from her womb, her children inevitably respond to it in rather extreme manners, with Vittoria dreaming of being a nun, while her brother Massimo dreams of being a Marxist revolutionary.