Rome, the capital of Tainted Souls
by Vittoria Scarpa
- VENICE 2017: Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini have adapted the Walter Siti novel, crafting a patchwork of lives in the working-class suburbs
The sophomore feature by directorial duo Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini, Tainted Souls [+see also:
interview: Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Co…
film profile], was produced by the same outfit as Don’t Be Bad [+see also:
film profile] (Kimerafilm), and just like the excellent film by Claudio Caligari, it portrays the fates of two men from the working-class suburbs, separated by the different choices they make. Their new film follows in the same vein as all those portraits painted of the Roman outskirts, plagued by small-time and big-time criminals, but focused on the humanity of those who inhabit them (two of the most recent examples in Italian cinema being Pure Hearts [+see also:
interview: Roberto De Paolis
film profile] and Lucky [+see also:
interview: Sergio Castellitto
film profile]). Back in 2010, the pair of filmmakers delved into the suburbs of the Italian capital with the sublime Et in terra pax, which debuted in Venice’s Giornate degli Autori. And it just so happens that the two Roman filmmakers are back in the same place with their latest outing.
There are various ways of looking at this feature, based on the novel of the same name by Walter Siti. You can see it as a love story (or several love stories), as the tale of a tragic friendship, as a patchwork of lives in the working-class suburbs, or even as the portrait of an underworld of ruthless wheeler-dealers who take advantage of those very same working-class people to make money and reach the upper echelons. But it’s also the story of a choice: to stay and be one of the last remaining residents, or to get the hell out and sell your own soul to the devil? In the first part of the movie, we find ourselves in a working-class block of flats that is reminiscent of a beehive, teeming with people, different accents and stories. Amidst the throng, we are introduced to two couples, Mauro and Simona (Maurizio Tesei and Giulia Bevilacqua), and Marcello and Chiara (Vinicio Marchioni and Anna Foglietta); and there is also an author, Walter (Vincenzo Salemme, in his first dramatic role), who is Marcello’s secret lover and provides him with financial support, as well as being the narrator of the film. Life goes by, with all its rumours, small-time drug dealing and football matches – but also the settling of scores, armed robberies and betrayals. It’s a colourful fresco of ordinary people getting by as best they can, and trying to love each other.
Halfway through the feature, another story begins. We skip forward three years and the plot zeroes in on one of these people, Mauro, who has made his fortune by making the leap from being a small-time dealer to getting involved in the “business” of cooperatives that help immigrants by appropriating public funds. We follow him during his descent into the underworld, residing in his impressive apartment in central Rome, his face disfigured from cocaine abuse and with a past that has come knocking on his door (it’s Marcello, who, frantic and overwhelmed by debt, has come to ask him for help). The directors (who also penned the screenplay, together with Nuccio Siano, who previously adapted Siti’s book for a stage play) choose to mark a clear separation between the two parts of the movie, including on the visual level. The warm colours of the suburbs give way to the cold lights of the city, middle-class vices gain the upper hand over love and friendship, and a dizzying sequence shot accompanies Mauro along his path of damnation, in one long scene at a benefit party with very dark overtones, revealing the two directors’ skill in handling camera movements.
Disowning your roots, losing your way to false ideals, cutting the most sacred of ties in the name of money: the many narrative threads in the film end up converging on this serious lack of judgement on Mauro’s part, while others simply get lost, just like the myriad characters that made them so enthralling in the first part. And it’s all set against the backdrop of a depressingly modern Rome, where corruption is like a disease that taints the soul, associating fixers, councillors, property developers, louts, social climbers, small-time crooks and big-time swindlers, the “overworld” and the “underworld”, which have been the focus of so many news stories lately, and which Italian cinema continues to depict with conviction, much to the delight of audiences.
(Translated from Italian)
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