Review: ‘Black Souls’ Depicts Crime Families Bound by Blood in Bad Ways

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.

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