Black Souls


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Black Souls
"What Black Souls does very well is to recapture the essential primitivism of conflicts based upon honour, fear of insult and the desire for revenge."

Sometimes it's difficult to see where the crime lord genre can go. We've all seen gang wars before, violence begetting violence, weeping women on the sidelines knowing their sons might be next. Black Souls quickly establishes a lot of characters like a teen horror flick preparing to get most of them killed off. But there's something different about Francesco Munzi's film. It's situational, it's tonal, and it rests, eventually, in an awareness that gangsters don't have a monopoly on violence.

At the heart of the film are three brothers. Luigi (Maro Leonardi) fits the crime lord archetype: he's passionate but savvy, charismatic, always on the lookout for opportunity or trouble. Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) is seemingly the sober one, wearing glasses, looking after the money, worrying. Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), has given up on the 'Ndrangheta business to become a goat farmer. He treats his animals with calm affection even as he prepares to slaughter them. He watches his only son, Leo (newcomer Giuseppe Fumo), herding them along the sea shore. But Leo isn't content with this life. He's drawn to the perceived glamour of blood and guns. He wants to be a somebody, so he sets off for the city to visit his uncles and chaos follows in his wake.

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What Black Souls does very well is to recapture the essential primitivism of conflicts based upon honour, fear of insult and the desire for revenge. Minimal dialogue and frequent close-ups give the capable cast room to express themselves through movement and facial expression, with mood much more important than reasoning. As the action shifts from Milan back into the Calabrian hills (captured at their most beautiful by cinematographer Vladan Radovic), it feels as if we're stepping back in time. What has developed as a gang war emerges as a blood feud, with all the pettiness and bitterness one would expect, but the brothers' very different reactions to it make us question the reason they have chosen their particular paths.

There are few roles for women in a film focused largely on male pride, but veteran actress Aurora Quattrocchi (The Golden Door) stands out as the elderly matriarch whom, we suspect, has seen all this before. her distinction between what is attractive and what is actually necessary is an important one, providing a brief glimpse of another way of living; yet there she is, in the hills, letting the men make the decisions. Wisdom takes a back seat for all concerned.

Black Souls will be too slow, too ponderous for many genre fans, but it's a deceptively sophisticated film, and its unexpected ending delivers more than just a surprise; for those who have made the effort to connect, it should throw all that has gone before into relief.

Reviewed on: 14 Feb 2015
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Mafia tale, based on a true story.
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Director: Francesco Munzi

Writer: Gioacchino Criaco, Francesco Munzi, Fabrizio Ruggirello, Maurizio Braucci

Starring: Barbora Bobulova, Fabrizio Ferracane, Anna Ferruzzo, Giuseppe Fumo, Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta, Aurora Quattrocchi, Pasquale Romeo, Manuela Ventura

Year: 2014

Runtime: 103 minutes

Country: Italy, France

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