Stefano Sollima, already successful in Italian television, impresses an international audience for the first time, and in no uncertain terms in his second feature film, the gritty crime drama “Suburra”.
The title metaphorically alludes to a seedy quarter of classical Rome where powerful and criminal elements once congregated to conduct shady deals. The film however, is set more recently in 2011 and focuses on an unholy alliance between corrupt politicians, cardinals, and various mafia outfits, setting off a chain reaction of events following an accident, just as the government pulls out all stops for a financial bailout during the economic crisis. It also advances the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI by a couple of years to add impact to an already complex plot involving these disparate characters.
When Filippo Malgradi (Pierfransisco Favino), a prominent minister of the crisis-ridden government ‘unwinds’ with a couple of prostitutes in a hotel room, the youngest of the two – fifteen year old Ilena (Yuliia Kolomiiets) drops dead due to a drug overdose. A reluctant Malgradi, with his career, reputation, and family life on the line, doesn’t want to deal with the consequences, and dismissively asks the other prostitute Sabrina (Giulia Elettra Gorietti) to get rid of the body by any means, which she does with the help of Dagger (Giacomo Ferrara).
Dagger is from the Anacleti clan, and brother of the terrifying Manfredi (Adamo Dionisi), whose criminal interests range from money lending to drug pushing and prostitution. He begins to blackmail Malgradi over the underage prostitute’s death, who in turn approaches a fellow politician for help. The politician asks Number 8 (Alessandro Borghi), a hit man and mafia don who controls Ostia, to ‘have a word’ with Dagger.
When Dagger is murdered, a war ensues between Manfredi and Number 8 against a backdrop of other big-time mafia interests vying for a piece of the pie surrounding a huge real estate redevelopment programme proposed for Ostia, a hitherto backwater port town. They are represented by a veteran mafia negotiator named Samurai (Claudio Amendola), who wants to defuse the war to ensure the smooth passing of the redevelopment bill in parliament. But the chain reaction has a mind of its own…
Any film about my favourite European city would inevitably end up in my watching list, but after La grande bellezza had set a new bar in depicting Rome in film, “Suburra” came as a pleasant surprise – and it is plain to see that the film had also drawn a bit of inspiration from the former. The taut thriller however paints a different picture – of a city seething with corruption and irredeemable characters – a Rome running a bit short of her heroes at present.
While a lot can be written in glowing terms about the film’s impressive technical merits, I’ll restrict myself to the production design that stands out, particularly Manfredi’s villa filled with wholly incongruous artefacts that hint at the dubious ways in which they might have been accumulated, the owner’s attempt – being of gypsy heritage, at trying to gain respectability in a society that fears and shuns him. True, these are clichés that only reinforce stereotypes, but it is also a reminder of the prejudice and racism that still exists today. The scenes in the villa, teeming with urchins from Manfredi’s ‘extended family’, are also the only comedic moments in an otherwise brooding film.
By extracting strong performances from the main actors and keeping the tension going for the best part of the film, Sollima has crafted a gritty and memorable film along the lines of Giuseppe Tornatore’s Il camorrista. It is heartening to see that Italian cinema can still produce the odd gem now and again – we only wish it was more frequent. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, Giulia Elettra Gorietti,
and Greta Scarano
There is an extended sex scene involving characters played by Pierfrancesco Favino, Yuliia Kolomiiets, and Giulia Elettra Gorietti, interspersed with other events happening at the same time. Greta Scarano who plays Viola, the love-interest of Number 8, appears nude in a couple of scenes, first when her knickers are pulled down at a night club by Number 8, and later when she lay uncovered in bed and Number 8′s associate comes barging in.