Since Gomorrah, the 2008 film and more recent televison series, we’ve been aware that organised crime in Italy is much more than the Cosa Nostra of Sicily, and Naples, its beauty, its history and, especially after the arrival of the Elena Ferrante novels, has become increasingly a focus of some horrified fascination. How else to present the Camorra on film? Here on show are two very differing approaches. With their rumbustious musical LOVE AND BULLETS (Ammore e Malavita), the Manetti Bros. boldly take it on headlong by laughing at the usual tropes of serious gangster movies and turning them into mocking James-Bond style make-believe. The comic-ironic tone is set by a stand-alone opening number with a minibus of wide-eyed Americans taken on trip to the location of Gomorrah, the ‘new tourist experience’, scippo included. We then move into the plot, in which Don Vicenzo, aka the ‘Fish King’ and a definite Mr Big in the city (Carlo Buccirosso), dodges assassination by hiding in a tank of his own mussels. He seizes the opportunity to escape Naples and the hard life of gangsterdom with his wife, having bumped off a poor schmuck of a shoe shop manager to take his place in an elaborate mafia style burial. (Prompting the [probably] sole example in film of a musical number delivered by a corpse from inside a coffin.) Meanwhile Don Vicenzo’s two trustiest henchmen, Ciro (Giampolo Morelli) and Rosario (Raiz) are charged with bringing down the murderers.
That’s the Bullets. The Love appears when Fatima (Serena Rossi), a nurse who has seen the deception and is therefore on the hit list turns out to be the long lost childhood sweetheart of stony faced smoulderer Ciro. This discovery provides the biggest and best musical moment, a hospital-corridor rendition of ‘What a Feeling’. Nothing after it is quite so good… I certainly wasn’t humming any other tunes as I left. Action is fast and furious after that, though one round less of ugly men getting shot up would have made the film snappier and more effective, and the rather slow transatlantic scenes don’t quite know what to do with themselves. But it’s lively enough and crazy enough to capture your heart a little bit with its outrageous energy, serpentine plot, beautiful people, dashing scenery, and just general chutzpah. Naples looks lovely, if exhausting, as bullets whistle, blood spurts, and speedboats leap across the bay. The acting is suitably over the top, Claudia Gerini in particular throwing herself whole-heartedly into her role as the pseudo-mourning wife. Ridicule is indeed a weapon against the hateful, and hats off to the irrepressible Manetti Bros. (Antonio and Marco) for this, albeit minor but very glittery, squib in the war against the self-importance of the Camorra.
In complete contrast The Intruder (L’Intrusa) by Leonardo di Costanzo is a thoughtful and low key documentary-style look at how the presence of the Camorra impacts on a working class community. Giovanna (Raffaella Giordano), a northern incomer, has worked many years on a project that creates a safe and constructive area for the children of a down-at-heel, unsafe neighbourhood. It’s flourishing. As we meet them, children and volunteers are in the midst of frantic and highly enjoyable activity making models and planning events for a carnival. But there’s a problem. A tiny house on the premises that Giovanna makes available, non judgementally, to anyone needing a safe shelter has been offered to a young woman with a small daughter and baby son, who turns out to be the wife of a notable violent criminal sought by the police for the murder of local man. And he’s hiding out there with her. After confrontation with the police he’s captured, bound for a long prison sentence. But his wife remains, and the little girl begins to be integrated with the other children and becomes one of the regular gang there. The children may accept her but there are soon mutterings among parents that their hard-won little oasis of peace is at threat from the interloper, especially when in-laws, flashy Camorra wives, start to visit.
As things begin to fall apart, with mothers and the local school threatening to withdraw the children, the carnival, which they have worked so hard for, is threatened. Giovanna is adamant that she will stand by her principles and let the family remain. It’s an impossible conundrum, the choice of an individual or a group who both need support; one’s own principles over the good of the group; compromise or an untenable ideal… The mother is enigmatic and her own feelings on the matter are obscure – is she taking refuge from a Camorra life she has rejected, or just cynically taking advantage?
When the situation is solved by her decision to leave, it feels a bit like a cop-out. Giovanna is off the hook and in the nick of time the carnival can go ahead. But cleverly what it actually does is leave it up to us to decide if it’s a good outcome, as if we are taking the burden on from Giovanna. This could so easily have ended on a feel-good note, as indeed to some extent, in the joy of the children in their project, it does, but it is determinedly not totally so. Can we be happy with the result? The Camorra are still out there, still divisive, and nothing has changed.