Translated as “Crime Novel”, this Italian drama follows three childhood friends, Il Freddo (Kim Rossi Stuart), Libano (a brilliantly psychotic Pierfrancesco Favino) and Il Dandi (Claudio Santamaria) as they make their way from smalltime thuggery to bigtime gangsterism. Finally, a film about gangsters made by real Italians, I hear you say. And they’re real gangsters too, the Magliani outfit, who not only hoovered up the drugs business in 1970s Italy but also got involved with the terrorist Red Brigades and the execution of the president, Aldo Moro, in 1978.
Moustaches, lapels, chest hair, male jewellery. Being a film kicking off in the 1970s, Romanzo Criminale staggers under their weight in its pursuit of the look of the period. The casting is near faultless too. Here is a film populated with the beautiful and the damned. The men are brutally handsome, the women (particularly Anna Mouglalis and Jasmine Trinca) are stunning. In the background is Rome, the city of the Borgias, the Caesars, the medieval popes. Everything hums with a raddled glamour.
The organised-crime climate being what it was in Italy, it probably wasn’t possible to tell the story until recently. And, telling the story is what Romanzo Criminale intends to do – don’t expect any false heroics, à la Goodfellas. This cuts both ways. Though setting itself up admirably quickly, there’s a sense that we’re already meant to be familiar with the characters in question (perhaps, if you’re Italian, you are), and the film rushes ahead, covering huge swathes of ground.
It is admirable but also confusing, especially in its detailing of the shady political stuff. Just how much the government was involved in the bombing of Bologna Centrale railway station in 1980 is not entirely clear. Perhaps the thing to do is to get an Italian friend to watch it with you to fill in some of the narrative gaps.
© Steve Morrissey 2006
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