Director: Francesco Munzi
Cast: Marco Leonardi, Peppino Mazzotta, Fabrizio Ferracane
Watch Black Souls online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Vertigo On Demand
“Do you want us to fall like dominoes?” asks one gangster in Black Souls. The Italian drama is the latest in a long line of mobster movies. As the years have passed for the genre, so too has the value placed on life: Hollywood crime flicks often have a high body count, lots of blood and a fast pace to fit in as much of both as possible.
But back in 2008, Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah presented a different way of doing things: complex, sprawling and low-key, the film brought a realism to the gangster genre, earning a BAFTA nod for Best Foreign Language Film in the process. Francesco Munzi’s Black Souls has a similar feel, but tells a much smaller tale.
The film follows three brothers with three very different views on the Carbone family business. There’s Luigi (Leonardi), who eagerly does a deal with a South American drug lord for piece of the white, powdery pie. There’s Rocco (Mazzotta), the flashy-suited power grabber with a ruthless streak as sharp as his hemline. And there’s Luciano (Ferracane). He looks after goats.
There’s a neat contrast drawn between the urban and rural identities of Italy, a country where many small towns in the hills have become abandoned as locals flock to the towns for job opportunities. One such sheep is Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), Luciano’s son, who has more respect for his uncles – and a hankering for Rocco’s Milan lifestyle.
Munzi shoots Leo’s fateful fleeing of the farmland with purpose – opening shots of Amsterdam are stylish, while static shots of his hometown of Africo make the division and destruction on show as clear as day – and the cast are excellent, from Fumo’s likeably naive wannabe to Mazzotta’s cool commander. It’s Ferracane, though, who really makes an impact, his shabbily dressed herder bringing a sense of tragedy to the escalating events, as blows are traded over and over with the rival Barreca clan in a mess of loyalty and revenge. As he becomes increasingly distraught and desperate to detach himself from this corrupt, bloody world, he ends up just as much sucked into it as his siblings. That sad reality is what gives Black Souls its distinctly dark tone, one that separates it from previous genre entries, even as the narrative treads familiar, familial ground. Killing is nothing new – but here, one death is just the start of an endless string. The bodies fall like dominoes.