Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 07, 2015 1:39 pm 
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A tragic southern Italian tradition of perpetual enmity

They are a mixed family of Calabrian gangsters named Carbone, of the regional mafia called the 'ndrangheta, with one foot in big-time heroin and cocaine dealing and the other in the old pastural peasant life, goat herding, dancing gigs to folk songs with accordion and tambourine. The oldest brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), doesn't accept the criminal ways. Devout and maintaining the family farm in the ancestral village, he calls a local gang rival "The Worm." But his 18-year-old son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) differs. Arrogant and uninterested in goat herding, he goes to Milan to join his uncles the more criminal Luigi (Marco Leonardi), whom he most identifies with, and the proper, accountant Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) after doing a stronzata, a stupid thing. He shot up the windows of a cafe-bar whose owner he had an altercation with. And there is a third brother, with different ideas. Their father was assassinated and some young family members were killed at the same time.

Francesco Munzi's film is finely crafted. The cinematography of his regular collaborator Vladan Radovic is handsome, the blue-tinted images beautiful and precise, as elegant when looking at a Calabrian village or a drab Milanese panorama. Or Amsterdam, where where uncle Luigi (Marco Leonardi) sets up a big cocaine shipment with South Americans in the genre-establishing prelude. A visual respect for the artisanal and intimate is asserted in closeups of small, precise actions: preparing a draft of medicine with a dropper, setting out a line of cocaine, serving pasta at an outdoor family dinner. Radovic's fine lens captures faces with great clarity. Young Fumo's long sad face makes a strong impression; the power of the ineloquent in cinema as in painting.

The action unfolds at a measured pace, the better to diffuse its feeling of omnipresent danger and add solemnity to the final tragedy. To insure our sense of this, there is a jolt every ten minutes or so. The concern isn't with the criminal dealings, the drugs, but with the clan rivalries. Leo's rash act angers the Carbone's rivals, the Bareccas, whose head is the one Luciano calls "The Worm," and who was responsible for their father's death. Things turn more violent, and there are consequences, along the old patterns. When clan trouble come in the village, the brothers must return from Milan to settle scores. Nothing is very unusual here, but one will remember the eloquent gestures, the momentary silences, and above all, the exquisite, precise visuals, the alternating tints of gold and luminous blue, the latter shade perhaps signaling the lingering attraction of somber enmity, a doomed courting of disaster. And the old omertà, a mutual silence protecting even one's enemies, an essential part of the old gangster clan system.

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Gioacchino Criaco, a resident of Africo, the town depicted here, reputed one of the most mafia-ridden in Italy. The musical but difficult "africese" dialect spoken throughout by the southern Italian actors is subtitled for the Italian audience. Africo locals cooperated and are woven into the cast. The film is notable not only for its austere elegance but for its regional, ethnic authenticity.

Anime nere ("Black Souls"), 103 mins., debuted at Venice, meeting with great favor from Italian critics but not winning a prize; also Toronto and nine international festivals; Italian theatrical opening Sept. 2014; also France (French reviews so-so, AlloCiné press rating only 3.2). UK, 12 June 2015, US release 17 April 2015.



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