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Munzi offers a glimpse inside Calabrian mafia Female characters real ‘Black Souls’

 VENICE, Aug 31, (Agencies): In the forsaken village of Africo in southern Italy, where director Francesco Munzi set his mafia film “Black Souls”, competing for the Golden Lion in Venice, even the gangsters are afraid. “Africo has a frightening history. That area of the south was famous for kidnappings in the 1970s and now is the heartland of the Calabrian mafia. I admit I was scared to go,” the 45-year-old Italian director told AFP in a beach-side interview. “Even the criminals, who cannot show any weakness, have a certain fragility. The clans are full of people who want out, who commit suicide,” Munzi said. The film centres on three very different brothers: drug smuggler Luigi, who arranges shipments of cocaine with South American drug lords, the bespectacled Rossi, a dodgy accountant in Milan, and the reclusive Luciano, the eldest. Unlike the others, Luciano cannot get over the death of his shepherd father in an apparent mob hit, and he refuses to have anything to do with his criminal siblings and struggles to keep his only son Leo out of their clutches.


When Leo, whose prospects like most young people in the poverty-hit south look bleak, shoots up a bar belonging to a rival clan, the family is forced back to Africo to attempt to defuse the situation — with devastating results. At the heart of the film, based on a book by the same name by Africo-native Gioacchino Criaco, are complex inter-clan dynamics — rather than with rival gangsters — and the doubts and fears harboured by those caught within. The director, who made his name with the immigrant dramas “Saimir” and “The Rest of the Night”, spent three days at Criaco’s house getting to know both the historic Africo, in the Aspromonte mountains, and the new one on the coast. “The old Africo is in one of the most stunning but inaccessible places in Europe. You need a jeep to get to the centre. Most people live in the new Africo on the coast, a construction-site graveyard,” he said.
The film switches back and forth between the two locations, but today’s Calabrian crooks belong very much to urban life and modern Italy, “far from the traditional idea of the mafia. These are people with degrees,” he said. Known as the ‘Ndrangheta, the organisation boasts networks of hundreds of family gangs and is even more feared and secretive than the Sicilian Mafia. The name ‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loyalty and its tight clan structure has made it famously difficult to penetrate. But Munzi found auditioning locals for supporting roles in the movie was a useful tool in getting them to open up about their experiences living in a town controlled by one of the most powerful and dangerous syndicates in the world.

“This is a town abandoned by the state where no positive projects have ever arrived. So with this opportunity, even those who had a terrible past opened up, they let themselves go because in acting, they could be free,” he said. The film does not attempt to match the gritty realism of Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorra” on the Naples-based Camorra, and neither is the growing phenomena of female bosses tackled, with women here relegated to preparing food and weeping over coffins. But Munzi defended his female characters, saying “we left them in silence because they’re not just complicit, they command through a look. They are the real black souls of the title.” A trio of brothers with three different outlooks converge on their ancestral town, where a blood feud threatens to turn into all-out war, in Francesco Munzi’s “Black Souls.” Calabria’s mafia, the ‘ndrangheta, have international reach, but their vendettas play out at home, allowing Munzi to illustrate urban-rural divides while showing how alliances and lethal questions of honor disturbingly survive in areas where options have never been a government priority. ; how it fares at the box office will depend on international and local auds’ seemingly insatiable appetite for the subject.
Much of the film was shot in Africo, a small town in the toe of Italy that’s long been synonymous with the forsaken south, and well known as a stronghold of the ‘ndrangheta. This is the hometown of the Carbone family, goat herders whose paterfamilias was killed sometime in the past. The opening, however is in Amsterdam, where Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and his lieutenant Nicola (Stefano Priolo) arrange with South American drug lords for a large shipment of cocaine. Luigi’s older brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), lives with wife, Antonia (Anna Ferruzzo), in Africo Vecchio, a largely abandoned hamlet perched on a rocky hilltop, where they tend the family farm and stay clear of the clan’s illegal activities. Yet son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) has little respect for his dad, instead looking up to uncles Luigi and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta), whose big-shot mafiosi lives are seductive to a teen with no prospects. Annoyed with a local bar owner, Leo shoots the place up at night and then hops a train to Milan, where he stays with uncle Rocco and his wife Valeria (Barbora Bobulova).
Seeing Rocco and Valeria in their home, expensively furnished with antiques and period-style pieces, auds can clearly categorize the three brothers. Rocco dresses in clean-cut Milanese style, and elegant Valeria, who doesn’t speak the dialect of her inlaws, is the type of mafia wife from outside the clans; she’s well aware that her husband is involved but doesn’t want to know the details. In contrast, Luciano hasn’t forsaken his peasant origins in look or lifestyle, while Luigi falls between the two, more friendly goon than citified criminal or hard-working man of the land. Leo’s childish attack on the bar disturbs the Carbones’ rivals, the Barracas, who demand the young man get a good scolding from his family. It so happens the Barracas were responsible for the Carbones’ father’s death, and while Luciano tries to calm the situation, simmering resentment is nearing boiling point.
As mafia plots go, “Black Souls” doesn’t veer far from its significant number of predecessors — there’s even a strip-club shot that could have been lifted from “The Sopranos.” Unlike “Gomorrah,” the film isn’t aiming for a connect-the-dots approach in which petty henchmen of the Camorra are seen as part of a global network; the Amsterdam scene here is almost superfluous, a mere nod to the ‘ndrangheta’s offshore scope. Instead, Munzi focuses on incongruous leftovers from a benighted past, where kinship and blood feuds in a marginalized corner of rural Italy fester until entire communities are drawn into a whirlpool of intimidation and violence. This is the film’s strong suit, uncovering the feudal nature of honor and the ways in which a rash act precipitates not just one murder, but a never-ending string of killings passed from generation to generation. In a locale where spitting on authority is a point of principle, everyone thinks they can be kingmaker if not king.

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