Black Souls

Anime Nere | 2015 | Italy | Directed by Francesco Munzi

Logline: Three brothers from a southern Italian crime family become embroiled in an escalating feud with another family.

Imbued with the same sombre tone and dark design of two American modern classics, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather and Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral, comes this authentic tale of morality and despair from the tenebrous heart of rural Calabria where the ‘Ndrangheta have laid down the law beyond the law for decade upon decade. Black Souls is as powerful and disquieting as its title suggests.

Based on a novel by Gioacchino Criaco, it tells the story of three brothers who are trying to keep the wealthy dynasty together, but petty differences, and the unruly younger generation is proving difficult. The eldest, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane), wants to remain out of the business, so he can continue to enjoy his twilight years with his goats and, hopefully, his son, Leo (Guiseppe Fumo), who idolises the two charismatic younger brothers, staunch Luigi (Marco Leonard), and savvy Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta), the business head of the family.

Following an argument, Leo, the hot head, acts impetuously and recklessly, blasting the windows of a rival gang’s bar. The consequences are tragic, and as a result, the family is drawn into the bitter machinations of feudal revenge. But this kind of vengeance is never just black and white, there is always red, and it spills every which way.

Black Souls doesn’t re-invent the wheel, as there is simply no need. There is nothing new on parade, no clever sub-text, or political angle. It is this straightforward, rustic approach, but executed with panache and attention to authenticity, which places Black Souls upon the mantle of the modern classic. A study of violence begetting violence, of morality being crushed under the weight of darkest human nature, Black Souls is the Italian crime family tale we’ve been waiting for.

The movie boasts superb performances from the entire cast (faces with more character than a fine aged vino rosso), with stunning cinematography and production/wardrobe design; all deep shadowy hues, black leather, steel, and wool. The dialogue measured, the behavior slowly unraveling, the slow-burn tension creeping up. You know this is not going to end well, but just how the cards fall is Black Souls’ Ace of Spades. A most darkly rewarding surprise, indeed.