There’s a very healthy renaissance in the Italian crime genre happening right now, and it seems to be headed up by one man: director Stefano Sollima. From the series of Romanzo Criminale and Gomorrah to this film, Suburra (also going to become a series, and the first original Netflix production from Italy, in 2017), he’s been putting the criminal underbelly of Italy on display to the world in some detail. In Ancient Rome, Suburra was the criminal district of the city, but this film finds a modern Rome where everywhere is corrupt and anything can be bought. It’s set over a week in 2011 leading up to ‘the Apocalypse’, as crime boss Samurai is charged by the key Mafia families to do whatever is needed to make the plan for Ostia, a kind of new Las Vegas on the waterfront, into a reality. A cast of corrupt politicians, hookers, gangsters and sleazy fixers populate the story. Their various strands start to be brought together when slimy parliamentary minister Malgradi’s penchant for debauchery kicks off a chain of events that will destroy everyone's dreams.
Suburra is a complex film with numerous threads to follow. Whilst this might suggest an affinity to genre greats like The Godfather or The Sopranos, as with Gomorrah, it’s an entirely different approach. These are not redeemable people, and Sollima and his writers are not seeking to humanise them or romanticise their world. Instead there’s a palpable outrage at the arrogance and hubris of the characters, and the greed that drives them all. Suburra is a dense, violent, brutal story and no one comes out of it without having been tainted by the corruption that pervades throughout, not even the clergy. There’s no honour to be found here. It’s not a pleasant film by any stretch, as everyone in it is pretty much a terrible human being, so if you need a protagonist to identify with you’ll really struggle. If that makes it seem like this is a heavy story to spend time in, it is, but most importantly, like the best dramas, it’s compelling stuff and deftly done. There’s nothing new in Suburra - you’ll find similar themes to Coppola’s classic, Scorsese’s gangster movies and any number of mob and corruption tales - but Sollima weaves everything together well enough that this doesn’t really matter.
For such a cynical film with a consuming darkness at it’s core, it’s worth pointing out Suburra as presented by cinematographer Paolo Carnera is beautifully shot, the eternal city a vibrant character. Rome is also a grim, neon-lit, rain-soaked nightmare, as the ‘Apocalypse’ referred to as the film opens seems to become an almost biblical one as the world the characters know collapses around them. It’s blessed, too, with a great score by the French electro group M83. If you’re a fan of any of the aforementioned titles, especially Sollima’s previous work, then Suburra is definitely one to seek out. You’ve just got to be prepared to wallow with the worst of humanity for a couple of hours.
SUBURRA / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: STEFANO SOLLIMA / SCREENPLAY: SANDRO PETRAGLIA, STEFANO RULLI, GIANCARLO DE CATALDO, CARLO BONINI / STARRING: PIERFRANCESCO FAVINO, GRETA SCARANO, JEAN-HUGUES ANGLADE, ELIO GERMANO, GUILIA GORIETTI / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 5TH