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BERLIN 2019 Competition

Review: Piranhas

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- BERLIN 2019: Based on a novel by Roberto Saviano, Claudio Giovannesi's latest film includes some impressive performances by its young protagonists but fails to capture the magic of Saviano’s writing

Review: Piranhas

Claudio Giovannesi's Piranhas [+see also:
trailer
interview: Roberto Saviano
film profile
]
is about a 15-year-old boy from the Sanità district of Naples who quickly finds himself becoming a gang leader in the heart of the criminal underworld. Presented in competition at Berlin Film Festival, the film is based on the eponymous novel by Roberto Saviano, who edited the screenplay along with Maurizio Braucci and the director, and is sort of like a spin-off of Gomorra [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Domenico Procacci
interview: Jean Labadie
interview: Matteo Garrone
film profile
]
, which won Matteo Garrone the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes ten years ago. If anything, it’s almost like Piranhas is checking in on the lives of two of characters in Gomorra (also a book by Saviano), Marco and Ciro, two young delinquents lured into the criminal underworld by guns and the promise of a Scarface life style.

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The same motivations seem to drive Nicola (an excellent performance by Francesco Di Napoli, a newcomer), Tyson, Biscottino, Lollipop, O'Russ, Briatò and a whole host of other kids caught up in the criminal underworld, such as making a quick buck so that they can buy designer shoes, t-shirts and more powerful scooters, snorting cocaine, getting attention from girls and being respected by a community that hides fear with deference. In Piranhas, Nicola's passive existence – which sees him observe his mother (Valentina Vannino) paying protection money (il pizzo) to the Camorra – quickly evolves into a desire for redemption when he fails to get into a club to hook up with a girl he likes (Viviana Aprea) because a table at the club costs €500.

The boys in Piranhas (Camorra jargon for an armed gang belonging to a clan, and evocative of the small fish attracted to the lights in fishing nets) are key to an economic universe based on violence, whose components are true exaggerations of the clichés of a welfare society, in a grotesque parody of capitalism. As soon as Nicola can buy his young mum various items of expensive, kitsch furniture, she’s happy as Larry, despite knowing that her son might end up in jail or worse, dead. The characters' more gruesome tendencies, however, are often stifled by the narrative’s rhythm, as if the director is hoping to mitigate its impact and attract a younger and more sensitive audience with the purpose of providing an educational lesson (the film’s end credits thank the non-profit association Maestri di Strada, a team of educators working in the suburbs). Nicola is an anti-hero who thinks he is doing the right thing, using the mafia boss Tonino Striano as an example, given that he doesn’t extort local neighbourhood traders. Starting an apprenticeship selling hashish for the Sanità district boss (Aniello Arena, the protagonist of Garrone’s Reality [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Matteo Garrone
film profile
]
), Nicola and his friends soon join forces with the Striano family when their boss is arrested in a raid at a wedding. The losers come out on top and the Ponticelli district boss provides them with weapons (Renato Carpentieri). But it’s not long before Nicola begins to butt heads with his peers and irritate families in the Spagnoli district, where his girlfriend lives. And in true Martin Scorsese fashion, it doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate...

Just like the Catholic director Scorsese, Matteo Garrone attributed no moral hierarchy to what is most likely his best film yet. Gomorra is more of an anthropological study by a director who took complete possession of Saviano’s text, bending it to his own imagination, and providing the viewer with some unforgettable moments along the way, such as a scene in which Marco and Ciro stand in their underwear shooting at the water with Kalashnikovs. Indeed, both Gomorra and Piranhas are adaptations of texts by Saviano. And while the first is about the incredible fictional investigation of a young journalist who dobs big mafia bosses into the authorities, resulting in a life in hiding, the other is based on a fictional novel about the Camorra 2.0, run by baby bosses who watch Breaking Bad, play Call of Duty and admire ISIS terrorists, who have both "the weapons and the balls." Unfortunately, the latter film ultimately fails to capture the magic of Saviano's book.

Piranhas was produced by Palomar with Vision Distribution, in collaboration with Sky Cinema and TIMVISION. Elle Driver is handling international sales. The film hits Italian cinemas on Wednesday, 13 February with Vision Distribution.

(Translated from Italian)

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