The North End: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?
Written by Michele Meek | Posted by: Anonymous
The lead character, Freddie, arrives in the North End as a paisano from Harvard. In this way, Freddie becomes a symbol of the hybrid neighborhood, and through him, we see the conflict between sticking to or breaking from the local culture (and all the cover-ups and dysfunctionality that goes with them).
Ironically, Freddie has arrived in the North End to create a documentary about the changing neighborhood, and the interviews that Freddie acquires from residents exaggerate the contrast between the two stereotypes enough to expose them as just that stereotypes. For example, the residents respond quite differently when Freddie poses the question "What would you do if you discovered your partner was cheating?" One Italian resident frankly states hed kill him, then kill her; while one of the yuppies offers the solution of marriage counseling.
This diametrically opposed morality becomes the most fascinating aspect of the film. And I must admit that it was during the interspersed scenes of this mockumentary that I found the most humorous and fresh approach to the subject matter. Not surprisingly, I found myself at the end of the film wishing I could watch Freddies documentary.
by Kiersten Conner
The North End opens promisingly, with perennial mob-movie actor Frank Vincent playing a perennial mob-movie actor in a scene from a cheesy mob movie. It turns out, however, that this is a movie-within-a-movie, or should I say, a movie-within-a-film, and for the following 90 minutes we see only flashes of the opening wit and energy. The North Ends main drawback is that everyone involved seems to have thought they were making a film, instead of what it actually is: a workmanlike first effort from a pair of local Boston filmmakers.
Brothers Frank and Joseph Ciota shot the film in on location in Bostons North End. Joseph wrote, and Frank directed. Unfortunately, it doesnt seem that they grasped the most powerful elements of their story. A funny, sad, evocative portrait of a neighborhood and way of life in decline gets lost amidst the sturm and drang of a love triangle anchored by a character we cant stand. Moreover, the movies ending doesnt ring true with its central metaphor: the neighborhoods changing, but its culture remains the same.
The story revolves around two recent Harvard grads who take a small apartment in the North End. Mac McCain (Mark Hartman) and Freddie Fabucci (Matthew Del Negro) are best friends, though we never know why: Mac is a brutal, boorish former football star turned investment banker, while Freddie is both a sensitive documentary filmmaker for PBS and the prodigal Italian son seemingly returned to his people. The grainy interviews with the locals that Freddie shoots are interspersed with the films action, in which Mac falls for local beauty Dani (Lina Sivio) and clashes with the ways of the neighborhood. Freddie, quickly rechristened "Freddo", fits right in and tries to smooth the way.
Therein lies the problem: You cant use the name "Freddo" in a movie with mafia overtones without it referring to The Godfather. While the reference is explicit in The North End, it doesnt mean anything about the character or his fate. Its just there. This amateurish quality pervades the film. When we first meet Dani, she serves drinks to Mac and Freddo. While Mac salivates over her, Vincents character explains that women from the North End need to be "sipped," carefully. Ciota immediately cuts to a tight shot of Mac glug-glug-glugging down his drink. When Mac asks Dani whether hell see her again, she replies, "Of course. This is the North End." Its hard to take the ensuing "tragedy" seriously.
While Hartman, Del Negro, and Sivio get most of the screen time, Frank Vincent is the best thing about the movie. Unfortunately, hes too much on the periphery; he and his North End cronies comment on the action but dont influence it. Vincents role as a North End type gone Hollywood is a wonderful snapshot of the way his lamented neighborhood is being destroyed: the picturesque becomes valuable and the yuppies move in. Those evil up-and-comers probably wouldnt have come, however, if Vincents own movies hadnt glamorized the area. Any remaining authenticity is lost.
The film skirts around what feels like a major theme: was this a way of life worth keeping? The point is made more than once that women feel safe in the North End because they are beaten only by their loved ones. Mac doesnt seem so far removed from them, and while Danis elders notice that Mac is smacking her around, they dont do much about it. Similarly, Dani talks about wanting to leave the neighborhood, but claims she cant because of ties to friends and family. The North End isnt wartime Casablanca; the viewer is left wondering why she cant take the subway like everyone else. Consequently, the ending feels empty: Macs a monster, Danis a bubblehead, and Freddos so passive he practically blends into the walls. Why should we care about their tragic fate?
The North End will show at the Avon Theatre in Providence, RI on on Sunday, March 15.