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VENICE 2015 Orizzonti

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Italian Gangsters: An ode to chaos and anarchy


- VENICE 2015: Renato De Maria’s film explores the life and deeds of six gangsters in post-war Italy

Italian Gangsters: An ode to chaos and anarchy

After showing The Obscene Life [+see also:
film review
interview: Renato De Maria
film profile
in last year’s Venice Film Festival Orizzonti competition, Italian director Renato De Maria is back in the same sidebar with Italian Gangsters [+see also:
film profile
, an intriguing and entertaining docudrama about six infamous bank robbers and criminal masterminds who controlled Milan and Bologna after World War II. The film is also available in the festival’s online screening platform, Sala Web.

De Maria mixes archive footage, fragments of gangster movies and long, funny, passionate monologues interpreted by actors, but based on interviews or autobiographies of the so-called “ruthless six”: Ezio Barbieri (Francesco Sferrazza Papa), Paolo Casaroli (Sergio Romano), Luciano Lutring (Luca Micheletti), Luciano De Maria (Paolo Mazzarelli), Horst Fantazzini (Andrea Di Casa) and Petro Cavallero (Aldo Ottobrino). Looking directly at the audience, they describe their wild lives involving robberies and crime, commenting in the process on two decades that completely changed Italy.

The fact that the actors are practically unknown to the international audience reinforces the convincing monologues written by screenwriters Valentina Strada, Federico Gnesini and De Maria. It forces the viewer to pay attention to the gangsters’ confessions: the fascination with adrenaline and anarchy is only one aspect of the daredevils’ perspective on life. Poverty, powerlessness and hunger in post-war Italian cities made them become “banditi”, outlaws prepared to rob banks for a better life.

“My finger on the trigger was faster than my feet on the football field,” says Barbieri, explaining why he became a gangster. He is the wild card of the six, with an impressive “career” and a ruthlessness that led him to become the most powerful mobster in Milan. Lutring reminisces about the partisans and resistance fighters who gathered in his parents’ café, bragging about their adventurous deeds. Fantazzini talks about poverty and humiliating working conditions, while Cavallero mentions the Fiat factories, where workers had almost no rights and were mere slaves tinkering away at Italy’s most popular cars.

An exploration of their anarchic mentality, Italian Gangsters pushes the right buttons so that the audience refuses to form a definitive opinion on how good or bad Barbieri and the others are. De Maria keeps them in a grey area, the area of those who robbed banks because they thought they had to, or simply because they could. One of the film’s funniest moments is when one of the gangsters utters: “Brecht said that building a bank is worse than robbing a bank” (the correct quote is actually: “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?”). No regular gangsters, indeed.

The monologues become funnier as the gangsters talk about their first raids (some stupidly successful, some stupidly unsuccessful), their nicknames, their brawls with the police, their partners, wives, love affairs and so on. The tone is more meditative as they describe their long years in prison, but especially their release back into an utterly changed world – a rebuilt, modern Milan where their courage, recklessness and addiction to adrenaline are obsolete.

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