In Souls of Naples, director Vincent Monnikendam paints a fascinating and intimate portrait of the two worlds of Naples-the comfortable world of the aristocratic strata and the struggle of the city's impoverished. Spending most of his time with the poor, he captures the poignancy of people living at the edge and their instinct for survival. Living under the shadow of an active volcano, these Neapolitans are matter-of-fact with the topic of life and death and seem to be happy even as they suffer. When one Neapolitan ask his friend how he gets on, his friend replies, "Have you ever heard of the University of the Streets?" Monnikendam begins his film with a conversation between two Neapolitan women about the various suicides in the recent past, and the different ways and places people use to escape the struggle of the harshness of life in Naples. He contrasts these uneducated life views with the bureaucratic rhetoric of the rich, represented here by members of Pio Monte who believe they are fulfilling the humanitarian 400-year code of their organization, which has been to care for the poor. But the poor do not feel cared for in Naples. As one woman puts it: "You have to be rich here. The only thing you get for free here is the air."
Independent filmmaker Vincent Monnikendam developed from journalist to documentary filmmaker, making dozens of documentaries and TV programs for Dutch broadcasters from 1963 on. The films focused on the relationship between the Dutch and the tens of thousand of immigrants in Holland. His working method and style required living among his subjects. His documentaries include the award-winning Rayon 69, Lijn 6, and De Tiendepenning. His 1995 documentary Mother Dao the Turtlelike, made out of 300,000 metres of 35 mm archival film material from the former Dutch East Indies, was screened at 52 international film festivals and won 17 awards, including five Grand Prix.