In a certain kind of Italian mob picture, you expect blood feuds, family feasts, and generational conflict. Certainly Francesco Munzi’s adaptation of a popular crime novel has all that, but it’s more family drama than shoot-’em-up. Matteo Garrone’s recent Gomorrah went for flash and sizzle, revitalizing the somewhat tired mafioso genre. Munzi instead dwells on the quiet moments and inner lives of the Carbone clan, which hails from a hilltop village in Calabria (the toe of the boot that kicks Sicily); though its pan-European criminal enterprise is run from Milan.
Handsome bull Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and bespectacled Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) are the mobsters, while eldest brother Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) has remained an honest farmer back in the ancestral village. That it’s been ruined by earthquakes makes gray-bearded Luciano a figure living in the past; no surprise that his coked-up hothead son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) wants to get the hell out. Again, there’s nothing novel about these well-paced clashes and conflicts. Nor does it help with the slow, sticky plot to chart the various grudges and obligations owed the rival Barreca and Tallura clans. The Carbones are inexorably undone from within, seemingly cursed by their own blood.
When Rocco’s red-haired Milanese wife (Barbora Bobulova) visits the Carbone village for a funeral, she’s repelled by the old village pieties and protocols. It’s like a smothering museum visit for her—and also a dismaying perspective on the underlying architecture of the family she’s joined. Munzi may smack us with an unexpected ending, but mainly one feels the crushing pressure of the past. Luciano even takes a health tonic mixed with the grit from the village church’s collapsed stones. It’s poison, yet it’s all the Carbones know how to drink.
BLACK SOULS Opens Fri., April 24 at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated. 103 minutes.