Italian Gangsters – Venice 72 Orizzonti
Renato De Maria creates an unconventional and extremely minimalistic dramatized documentary that explores the most violent thirty-year criminal period of post-war Italy.
Theoretically a crime film like Italian Gangsters could only emerge from the vaults of Carlo Lizzani and Fernando Di Leo. Renato De Maria remains faithful to the genre but decides to diversify fiction and focus on reality. Italian director – better known for Andrea Pazienza’s biopic Paz! (2002) – returns to Orizzonti section exactly one year after the arguably mediocre La Vita Oscena. This time with Italian Gangsters he blends elements of fiction with documentary and archive footage in an exploration of Italy’s post-war criminally chaotic years. The film premiered at the 72nd Venice Film Festival.
Ezio Barbieri, Paolo Casaroli, Pietro Cavallero, Luciano De Maria, Horst Fantazzini and Luciano Lutring are probably the most renowned gangsters that ruled criminal life of Northern Italy for at least thirty years. Their lives and acts have already been dramatized and their fame certainly surpasses the borders of their country. Probably no one really cared to know who exactly these bandits were and which inner or truest thoughts had. A sextet of stage actors, Francesco Sferrazza Papa, Sergio Romano, Aldo Ottobrino, Paolo Mazzatelli, Andrea di Casa and Luca Micheletti, depict correspondingly each of them in an unusual set of monologues.
Italian Gangster’s originality comes with the bold decision to be as minimal as possible, on the verges of avant-garde, and by breaking some cinematic rules while flirting with a slightly Nouvelle Vague essence of cinematography. The actors who reincarnate the gangsters are placed on an empty stage with a black background and they narrate their heroes’ personal stories. They become the gangsters and they speak, look and express themselves like them. What becomes even more interesting is the completely different image that De Maria wants to present. Instead of focusing exclusively on their criminal action, he prefers to show their psychological aspect and personal details of their lives. Following a series of almost improvised interviews, the bandits respond to different questions, like what was your first hit, who was your first wife, what is your ideology, who was your best friend or what was the most exciting thing in your life.
Of course since this is basically a fictionalized documentary, nothing is as improvised as it perfectly seems. The answers that the gangsters give are completely based on actual documents and data, like their testimonies, facts from interrogations, biographies and other books of reference. Research goes even deeper as the monologues are interrupted by archive news footages that show their actions as they happened, newspaper headlines and most importantly scenes from films that they were highly inspired by this thirty-year violent life. De Maria pays homage to the directors that created the Italian crime genre in the late 60s and especially to Fernando Di Leo. Although he doesn’t stop there as he also includes films like Elio Petri’s La Classe Operaia Va In Paradiso (1971), Michelangelo Antonioni’s I Vinti (1953) or Marco Bellocchio’s Sbatti Il Mostro In Prima Pagina (1972). This is a precise and interesting procedure as Italian cultural references blend with the actual facts in an unexpected mix with Lele Marchitelli’s chilling and experimental score giving a mid-50s feeling.
If Italian Gangsters is taken as an experimental film or something that comes out-of-the-box it is quite interesting and informative at the same time. Certainly this minimalistic and austere picture could seem repetitive but luckily the performances by the six protagonists keep everything under control. De Maria is taking some risks following this path. At least the final result seems convincing and could appeal to an audience that is looking for an unconventional crime film that focuses exclusively on research and less on action.