The Italian Connection
The link between Italy, crime and cinema stretches back to the medium’s earliest years. From dramas dealing with home-grown crime sprees to the impact of the Italian diaspora on the global Underworld, no other country can so comprehensively claim to be the kingpin, the godfather, the mob boss of the crime movie.
This close association between crime and the Italian screen has itself become the staple of discussion in popular culture. The husband of Lorraine Bracco’s psychoanalyst in the game-changing HBO TV series ‘The Sopranos’ regularly bemoaned the way that TV and cinema perpetuated the myth of the Italian criminal mind, even as David Chase’s extraordinary series continued to do exactly that.
But a brief journey through Italian cinema and representations of Italian culture on the screen show how intrinsic this image is. From Howard Hawk’s original Scarface and the less well-known Black Hand – featuring Gene Kelly in arguably his most atypical role – through to Francesco Rosi’s conspiracy dramas of the 1970s, The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas and Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah. That latter film offered up a less glamourous world of crime, a contrast to many earlier representations and in keeping with a number of films featured in Curzon Home Cinema’s The Italian Collection.
Garrone’s Dogman continues the trend set by Gomorrah. The director’s Cannes-winning (Best Actor, Marcello Fonte) drama unfolds just outside the Italian capital, but is a world away from the city’s rich heritage, if not its bloody past. Instead, it focuses on the Roman populace who attempt to eke out a living with their small businesses. Focusing on the relationship between Fonte’s shy dog groomer and Edoardo Pesce’s boorish lowlife criminal Simoncino, Garrone’s film is a chamber accompaniment to his earlier, more expansive crime epic. But in focusing on this tale in such detail, he highlights the insidious impact of crime on everyday lives.
A similar theme is explored in The Ciambra and Sicilian Ghost Story, albeit from very different perspectives within the social and economic strata of Italian society. In The Ciambra, a young boy is faced with the responsibility of becoming the ‘head’ of a family after his father and older brother are incarcerated. While in Sicilian Ghost Story, the filmmakers offer a unique take on a mob-related kidnapping. By contrast, Black Souls presents a wider perspective on the all-encompassing nature of organised crime in Italy, albeit far removed from city life, instead presenting the harrowing nature of mob activity in one of the country’s more rural provinces.
Politics is inextricably linked to Italy’s crime network. In the case of Paolo Sorrentino’s audacious Il Divo, the two worlds are indivisible. Sorrentino regular Toni Servillo here transforms himself into notorious ex-premiere Giulio Andreotti.
Echoing Max Schreck’s Nosferatu in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 classic, Servillo’s Andreotti is a malevolent figure whose comical persona is contrasted with the brutality of his actions. Likewise, Stefano Sollima’s Suburra portrays Rome’s political class as ethically, socially and morally corrupt, preying on ordinary Romans as they attempt to legitimise their behaviour. Solima’s success with the film and subsequent TV spin-off has seen him turn his gaze to another political hotpot, the drugs war across the US-Mexico border, in Sicario 2: Soldado.
Few films have engaged with politics, crime, corruption and the moral rot at the heart of Italian society with such accomplishment as Bernardo Bertolucci and his stunning 1970 masterpiece The Conformist. The story of a man (Jean-Louis Trintignant) vacillating between communism and fascism in pre-WII era Italy, it is an extraordinarily complex portrait of a society descending into chaos. It is also an elegant, hugely influential film.
The tale of a man corrupted also lies at the heart of Paolo Sorrentino’s equally majestic The Consequences of Love. But here, the captive of the mob takes control of his moral compass, deciding on the course of action he needs to take to make the world just a little bit better, no matter the outcome for him. Again, Toni Servillo is magnetic as the banker who fell foul of the mob. And the film highlights just how wide – thematically and stylistically – representations of Italy’s criminal underworld have become.
The Italian Connection is available to watch now on Curzon Home Cinema.