Families are fraught with the threat of fireworks at the best of times. If that said family’s business happens to be illegal, just imagine what could happen. If, however, you don’t fancy any imagining right now, Calabrian crime drama Black Souls has gone and done it for you. Overly reliant on stock characters and predictable plot arcs, Francesco Munzi’s film is confident enough to take its time hitting all the right dramatic notes along the way.
Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) run the criminal enterprise, the former an intimidating force of nature, the latter an astute businessman who prefers to keep his hands clean. Their older brother Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) has elected to stay out of this line of work altogether, remaining in the mountains with his beloved goats. So far, so familiar. The strongman and the accounts man are organised crime trademarks as is the clean sibling powerless to prevent being dragged into their murky world.
In this case, it’s his son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) who causes all the problems. Bored of the farming life, he craves a move to Milan to live with his uncles. Luciano wants him to stay out of trouble but it all becomes a moot point soon enough. Champing at the bit, a row in the local village results in an act of petty revenge that drags everyone into a merciless and tragic feud.
Boilerplate characters are the biggest weight holding Black Souls down. Everyone has a tightly defined role and they are expected to play it without deviation. No one’s allowed to grow or learn anything along the way. They’re simply trapped, forced to play to type until the final destination is reached. It becomes a matter of when, not if, certain events will occur.
What’s impressive is that given its narrow rails, the moments of high drama are handled extremely well. Munzi doesn’t flood the screen with action, focussing instead on a subdued build-up that explodes three times over the course of the film. Each time, tension is ratcheted up suddenly, the dark colour palette casting an ominous shadow. Music keeps a watchful distance, only intervening when it can enhance a scene.
The final third actually starts to push against its straightjacket, allowing Rocco’s wife Valeria (Barbora Bobulova) to emerge as a person of unexpected interest. Even more surprising, the ending, although too abrupt, suddenly takes an unexpected turn avoiding the road it looked almost certain to travel down. Black Souls could have done with a deeper focus on character but it still offers a credible and well-handled drama that manages to reach past its deficiencies more often than not.
Director: Francesco Munzi
Stars: Barbora Bobulova, Fabrizio Ferracane, Anna Ferruzzo
Runtime: 103 min
Country: Italy, France