Director Stefano Sollima is no stranger to exploring mob crime and corruption in modern Italy. Having previously directed the acclaimed TV series Romanzo Criminale, his debut feature ACAB – All Cops Are Bastards led to Sollima adapting Roberto Saviano’s Gamorrah to the small screen as another series. With SUBURRA, he elevates the lives of his players to operatic levels, in a tight piece that never lets up for a moment.
Based on the novel by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo, the title draws its name from a suburb in Ancient Rome. A crime boss known only as “Samurai” (Claudio Amendola) is determined to convert a waterfront area into a massive casino area, something that everyone from politicians to the Vatican will profit from. However, when an underaged prostitute dies during a sexy and drugs party hosted by Italian MP Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino), it starts a snowball effect of violence and retribution in the shadow of an imploding political system.
There is a lot going on in SUBURRA, maybe even too much at times, and the myriad of characters each wants their own piece of the pie. It’s the kind of film where you need to be paying constant attention, as the motivations of the various pimps, prostitutes, politicians, pushers, psychopaths and even Popes can change on a dime. Like the classic mafia films of bygone eras, the butterfly effect of one action inevitably leads to an equally harsh reaction from another player, but where it comes from is often the shock factor. This is because once the film gets going, it rarely pauses for breath, escalating from kidnapping, to extortion and mass murder with an atmospheric M83 soundtrack dominating the soundscape.
Co-funded by Netflix, with the intention of a follow-up series to commence in 2017, SUBURRA is a slick modern production. Everything is bathed in a purple neon underglow, giving even the most innocuous corners a sense of seediness. Even the gratuitous sex sequences are explicit, it’s in a Penthouse kind of way, a formal eroticism that gives way to chaos. It may not do much for the Italian tourism industry, but it does restore the heightened drama of the genre to its glory days, albeit with a contemporary twist.
2015 | Italy | DIR: Stefano Sollima | WRITERS: Stefano Rulli, Sandro Petraglia, Carlo Bonini, Giancarlo De Cataldo | CAST: Pierfrancesco Favino, Elio Germano, Claudio Amendola | DISTRIBUTOR: Madman Entertainment (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes | RATING: ★★★★¼