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A review of “Anime nere”

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The international appeal of Italian cinema is growing with each passing year. American audiences in particular are being treated to dozens of contemporary Italian films through festivals all over the country. However, it isn’t every day that we get a nationwide theatrical release. Such is the case with Francesco Munzi’s latest film, “Anime nere” (Black Souls).

The title is appropriate for the tone of the film. It is indeed a very dark film in which its characters are trapped in a world where their lives are dominated by organized crime. When I first saw the film, my initial reaction was, ‘not another Italian crime film for Americans to see.’ But after processing it and speaking with several of its makers, I realized that it goes way deeper than just another film about gangsters. It’s a story about brothers and family bonds. I just hope that American audiences will be able to see beyond the mafia storyline to really understand the meaning and poignancy of this film.

For decades, the Calabrian mafia, ‛Ndrangheta, has been a forceful presence in the region and has reached far beyond the borders of Italy. The story in “Anime nere” focuses on several generations of one family that have been greatly affected. The cast — led by profoundly talented actors Marco Leonardi, Fabrizio Ferracone and Peppino Mazzotta — have so much chemistry, it’s easy to forget you’re watching a movie. Africo, the southern Calabrian town in which it was shot, has a dreary, mystical atmosphere that sets the stage for a dark family drama with absolutely mind-blowing performances.

Ferracone portrays Luciano, a father, a son and a brother who deeply suffers by watching the toll organized crime has taken on his family. He wants nothing to do with the family business but he cannot help getting involved, even if it’s totally not of his doing. His son, Leo, played by up-and-coming actor Giuseppe Fumo, is a firecracker just waiting to explode as he tries to save the face and name of his family. That family pride sets off a firestorm and puts the whole story into motion.

Screenwriters, Munzi and Gioacchino Criaco, author of the book from which the film was adapted, succeeded brilliantly in creating a close family whose members truly love one another even though they don’t always see eye to eye on everything. My only real criticism of this film is the role (or the lack thereof) played by the women in the film, in particular the two stereotypical mafia-movie scenes in which random naked women are just hanging around. I understand that these scenes are meant to underscore the depravity of the world in which we’re immersed, but in this case, they really did nothing to move the story forward. Actress Anna Ferruzzo should have played a bigger role in the film. As Luciano’s wife, she was clearly just a supporting role and we certainly didn’t get to see a fraction of her capabilities as an actress.

Overall, I recommend seeing this film. Artistically, it is a capolavoro … a masterpiece. The acting, writing and cinematography are top-notch and if you look past the gangster element, it’s really a beautiful story of family, love and pride.

“Anime nere” will be released nationwide on April 10. Until then, we will be taking more in-depth looks at the making of the film, and closer to the release date, we’ll give you a complete list of theaters across America that will show it.

About Jeannine Guilyard

Jeannine Guilyard is a longtime correspondent for Fra Noi and the Italian-American community newspaper in Rochester, N.Y. She has also contributed to the Italian Tribune of New Jersey, Italian Tribune of Michigan and L'Italo Americano of Southern California. Jeannine wrote and directed the short film "Gelsomina," which was selected for the Screenings Program of the 59th Venice Film Festival, and she won Emmy and Peabody awards as an editor of ABC's "Special Report" following the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jeannine is also a writer and editor for Italian Cinema & Art Today, a publication and blog she founded in 2005 to bridge culture between New York and Italy. Follow her on Instagram at Italianartcinema and on Twitter at @ItaloCinema2day.

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