Sheer volume has now also made them something of a celluloid chestnut exemplified perhaps by Marlon Brando, his cheeks padded, croaking cinema’s definition of ‘cost-effective’ crime: “It makes no difference, it don’t make any difference to me what a man does for a living, you understand”.
And so we have become accustomed over the years to seeing mafiosi created on film by a large roster of Italian-American actors, among them Al Pacino, Frank Sinatra, Ray Liotta, Paul Sorvino and Robert De Niro – and, of course, filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.
All of which makes Francesco Munzi’s Venice Film Festival’s Best Director and Best Film winner Black Souls (Anime Neri) all the more intense and attention-grabbing since its key criminal characters are potently played by unfamiliar (and all the better for it since it gives their characters real credibility) Italian actors without any trace of Tinsel Town tropes.
Munzi’s compelling crime saga tells the story of a criminal family from Calabria in the South of Italy and focuses on brothers Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta and Fabrizio Ferracane who, while in touch with the local crime syndicate, end up trapped in a dangerous internecine war.
While shepherd’s son Leonardi is an international drugs trafficker and Mazotta, while appearing to be middle class, has become an entrepreneur with money supplied by Leonardi.
Ferracane, the oldest son, has passed on criminality in favour of the family tradition of raising goats.
Ironically it is Ferrecane’s intemperate 20-year-old son Giuseppe Fumo who drags the brothers into a brutal and bloody feud of honour when he triggers off a bloody brawl in a local bar ‘kept’ by a rival gang…
Happily Munzi (who also co-wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Giaocchino Criacco) never resorts to Hollywood-style melodramatics.
Instead, he creates credible characters and escalating suspense naturally and believably.
He opens his story in Amsterdam where Leonardi makes a profitable deal with Spanish collaborators. His vivid use of apt locations, atmospherically shot by cinematographer Vladan Radovic in Calabria (the home of the real-life ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate) adds valuable realism that adds potent drama to a gripping saga of crime, punishment and vengeance.
The procession of strong, credible and naturalistic performances, thankfully free of any trace of Hollywood gangster film grandstanding, adds to a memorable movie that blends crime, punishment and, above all, credible human relationships into compelling drama.
Just pray Hollywood doesn’t get around to attempting a remake.
Review by Alan Frank