Sunday, March 6, 2016

BLACK SOULS (Anime nere, 2014)

Francesco Munzi's crime film dominated last year's David di Donatello awards, Italy's equivalent of the Academy Awards. Munzi won Best Director and shared in the Best Screenplay award for an adaptation of a novel by Gioacchino Criaco. Black Souls is a stark picture that challenges the "family" myth of organized crime in unsettling ways, mainly by moving family drama to the forefront. In short, it's the story of a competition for influence over a young man between his father and his uncle. The father, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) is actually the eldest brother of the family, while Luigi (Marco Leonardi) is the youngest. Theirs is a crime family, but Luciano has kept out of the business to raise goats, leaving middle son Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) to run the business end of the family while Luigi acts as legman for drug deals and enforcer, and acts even more like an overgrown kid, and like an older brother to Luciano's boy Leo (Giuseppe Fumo). While Luciano has aged into a stubborn isolato, Leo emerges from adolescence eager to "command respect" in a way his father doesn't. When Leo gets involved in a petty local beef Luciano wants to shut him down, but Luigi only encourages him. You get the dreadful feeling that Luciano doesn't have a chance with his kid. Leo isn't the most emotive of rebels; rather, it looks like something's already dead in the lad's contemptuously poker-faced expression that Luciano can't bring to life.

Tragedy ensues as the local conflict escalates. When Luigi is killed, Leo rejects all warnings from his father and resolves to avenge his uncle. The naive punk promptly gets himself set up to be whacked in turn. You see where this is headed, right? Now Luciano is going to assert himself and take out his family's enemies. He thought he was out for life, but now he's dragged in. Perhaps he will prove more ruthless than Luigi or Rocco. Well, sort of and sort of. Following the pictures will be spoilers for the end of the film.

(l-r) Fabrizio Ferracane as Leo, Marco Leonardi is Luigi, Giuseppe Fumo as Leo


Anime Nere's ending is a genuine shocker. Luciano does go on the warpath, but he takes his wrath out on Rocco and other family members, those he presumably blames for his so taking the wrong path. At its climax Munzi's film veers violently from the cliches of the crime genre and upends whatever notion we may have had of Luciano as an honorable loner. The ending puts his isolation, his jealousy of his brothers' influence over Luigi, and even his distance from organized crime in a different light, or a darker shade. More than a jealous patriarch, he appears as an anti-social, self-righteous if not plain selfish man, someone who never sought to command respect because he never gave a damn what anyone thought of him. The image of his abandoned flock of goats at his doorstep after he leaves for his final showdown with his family is perhaps too on-the-nose in its symbolism, but it's definitely telling. It's a cunning, nearly cruel swerve by the filmmakers and the original author, since we're conditioned to think of the lonely man who holds himself aloof from organized crime as a hero, even when it means keeping aloof from his own family. But the family aspect of it all should have tipped us off that something more (or less) than a morality play was playing out here. That the ending shocks while ringing true is a tribute to the actors (none of whom scored a David, by the way) and Munzi's psychological craftsmanship. I haven't seen any of Black Souls' competitors for those awards, but at first glance it looks like those it won were well deserved.

No comments: