LFF: Black Souls

‘Well, that was fucking terrible’, my LFF companion said to me as we left the screening of Black Souls. It came as a shock to me, because I had been politely impressed with what we’d just seen – an Italian dynastic crime movie set in the southern region of Calabria. No memorable characters, he said, nothing distinctive about the narrative, and, crucially, no thematic hook. The more I listened, the more I became convinced of his arguments, and my attempts to defend the film became something akin to self-justification. But let me attempt to find some balance in this chaos.

The film follows Leo, the son of a farmer who has turned his back on the family crime business, as he head to Milan to live with his dangerous, mafia uncles. In its tone and set-up, the film feels very much like David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom. A childish attack on a local bar turns into a power struggle for control of the Calabrian village, which culminates in tragedy. It should be noted that this all unfolds slowly and counter-dramatically; the film is 90% dialogue and wistful looks, and there is no violence before the climax. It burns slowly but vividly, Vladen Radovic’s cinematography painting beautiful Italian landscapes in muted blues and greys. And the atmosphere is pungent – with heavy clouds, dark cornered rooms and wrinkle etched faces.

Where the film stumbles is in fudging its opportunity to ‘make a point’. Or maybe that is the point (that there’s no point), but when the film looks like its moving down a refined anticlimactic alley, it kicks up into a different genre. The taut family drama, as it starts out, becomes some sort of thriller and, in its moment of melodrama, the film professes its lack of originality. Which is a shame, because the build-up has a fitting tension and seems to have a point to make about modern masculinity, especially in the context of Mafia movies of the last century. So when my friend pointed out that the film has ‘no thematic hook’ that is, indeed, its greatest problem. Mafia movies are, by their very nature, family dramas, so the merging of those genres isn’t enough to distinguish a film. What we end up with is a handsomely crafted, atmospheric and mostly very fine piece of filmmaking, but one which needs more of an overriding voice.

The beautiful Calabrian landscapes distract from an Italian mafia movie with nothing new to say, other than that, in its modern frailty, organised crime continues to be a potent inspiration for filmmakers.

animenere
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Title: Black Souls (Anime Nere)
Director: Francesco Munzi
Starring: Barbora Bobulova, Fabrizio Ferracane, Anna Ferruzzo, Giuseppe Fumo
Running time: 100 or so mins
Certificate: I'd guess 15

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