Nytimes.com EXCEPT FOR ONE family member, the Carbones, a clan of goat-herding gangsters in Francesco Munzi’s film “Black Souls” belong to the ’Ndrangheta, Calabria’s mafia, based in the rocky climes of extreme southern Italy. In their secretive culture of simmering blood feuds, vendettas and territorial rivalries, which has flourished since the 19th century, not a grudge is forgotten nor an insult overlooked. The peace is fragile, and a pall of suspicion hangs over their hometown, Africo. This grim little tragedy involves three brothers and a renegade son. The eldest brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), has opted out of the family business, preferring to herd goats and live high in the hills, but he is anything but naïve about his younger siblings’ activities. Luigi (Marco Leonardi) is a mischief maker who in one scene steals another farmer’s livestock for his midday meal. The sleek, unsmiling Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) handles the business side of the Carbones’ international cocaine smuggling enterprise, based in Milan.
The wild card is Luciano’s hotheaded 20-year-old son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo), who despises his father and aspires to share his uncles’ more glamorous life in the north. In Africo, Leo carelessly endangers the détente between the Carbones and their rivals, the Barracas, by shooting out the windows of a local bar after a petty disagreement. Fleeing north to Milan, he visits Luigi and Rocco and is so impressed by their flashy lifestyle that he announces his desire to stay. But when the uncles receive word of Leo’s misbehavior, the boy is warned that if he acts up again, the consequences will be dire. This trigger-happy youth is even more sociopathic than his uncles, whom the movie takes pains not to glamorize, even inadvertently. Unlike countless gangster films, “Black Souls” doesn’t secretly admire the bad guys. The movie has no pseudo-tragic Nino Rota score to prop them up as antiheroic role models. Nor does “Black Souls” evoke a wider, elaborately stratified criminal network like Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah.” When Leo disappoints Luciano by idolizing his uncles, Luciano makes no bones about his disgust. One false move is all it would take to rekindle a war at the height of which, years earlier, the Barracas killed the Carbone brothers’ father. “Black Souls” is an ominous, well-acted portrait of an ingrown feudal society of violence, retaliation and deadly machismo. Leo single-handedly initiates a deadly chain reaction. As the body count escalates, you observe the implosion of an airtight mob community whose code of silence is embraced by wives and family members. Tears are shed and funeral processions wind through the streets.
“Black Souls” is the antithesis of a sensationalist splatter movie. There is not an operatic flourish to be seen in a film whose killings are executed with a coldblooded efficiency. This isn’t entertainment; it’s life and death.
Black Souls (Anime Nere) Opens on Friday Directed by Francesco Munzi; written by Mr. Munzi, Fabrizio Ruggirello and Maurizio Braucci, based on a story by Mr. Munzi and Mr. Ruggirello and the book “Anime Nere” by Gioacchino Criaco; director of photography, Vladan Radovic; edited by Cristiano Travaglioli; music by Giuliano Taviani; set design by Luca Servino; costumes by Marina Roberti; produced by Luigi Musini and Olivia Musini; released by Vitagraph Films. In Italian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes. This film is not rated. WITH: Marco Leonardi (Luigi), Peppino Mazzotta (Rocco), Fabrizio Ferracane (Luciano), Barbora Bobulova (Valeria), Anna Ferruzzo (Antonia) and Giuseppe Fumo (Leo). A version of this review appears in print on April 10, 2015, on page C11 of the New York edition with the headline: Bound by Blood in Very Bad Ways.