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The tragic mafia

VENEZIA / Mafia and corruption were the themes of several films at the Venice Film Festival in September. But why are so many attracted to power, since it so easily corrupts over time?


Can a bunch of films at the annual Venice Film Festival suggest something about power in our time? Possibly. Let's see how they deal with the tragic power:

The Portuguese movie A cure (the Domain) by Tiago Guedes is similar to Italian Bertolucci's epic 1900 – where you follow rulers and subjects for generations. For almost three hours we follow A cure ("Domain") the story of the wealthy Fernandes family. 1946: The father raises his son João – hard-handed. 1973: Portugal's nepotistic and fascist political upper class presses the new head of the family with adults João Fernandes (played by Albano Jerónimo) to support them – he refuses despite being related to them; he is not corrupt.

A Shepherd (the Domain)

Then the Portuguese carnival revolution overthrew Estado Novo's authoritarian regime in 1974 – as we see in the film, where the rich fascists have to flee their heads over Brazil. João, on the other hand, has been a more independent landowner, and remains. He meets the challenges of the time. But he is the strong one at the top, as his father brought him to stay. And he is happy to be happy with the women in the workforce – and it is slowly but surely going the wrong way. 1991: The estate with its huge corn and rice fields that provided Portugal for a number of years has been sold off piecemeal, and its wealth has diminished. And so does the family, which is starting to leave him. The lies had become too many. Fate obtained João. His wife left him. And his young son recalls being bathed in ice-cold water as a child, to cure – in which he tells his father that his feelings for him remained just as icy, as he says on the way out the door at the end of the movie. And then, abandoned, João blasts in despair his dear black stallion, who eventually plunges. One more he hurt. He has to shoot the horse, and the movie ends where it began, with the now elderly João taking refuge in the little ruin where he played as a child – alone.

Too much power as mentioned tends to end tragically, corruptly.

The aging Mafia boss within the so-called 'Ndrangheta reigns
in hiding from his cave in the ground.

Francesco Rosi

In Venice we also saw Italy's former director Francesco Rosi (1922 – 2015) in the documentary biography Citizen Rosi, made by his daughter Carolina. In particular, he belonged to the politicized neorealists of the 60 and 70 such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Taviani brothers and Ettore Scola. The documentary we see is really a socially critical portrait of Italy through small comments where father and daughter together on the couch watch many of his films – about power relations, corruption and mafia.

Citizen Rosi. Director Francesco Rosi

Rosi has always been shown retrospectively in Venice, as a few years ago, when we saw the feature film Hands on the city (Property shark, 1963) on a mafic and corrupt construction industry. Rosi's breakthrough was possibly the mafia movie The challenge (The Challenge, 1958), which caused controversy with its hint that the mafia controlled the government. Or Salvatore Giuliano (1962) on Sicily, the police and the mafia. And as of late The Palermo Connection (1990) Mafia Mathematics returned.

In the same couch we also see mafia author Roberto Saviano (Gomorrah, among others), which is clearly inspired by Rosi, where they talk about corrupt builders and conditions that Italy is still struggling with. At the Berlin earlier this year, Saviano said he was still fighting the inner barbaric nature of the mafia – which led to full police protection in the twelfth year. Although the mafia is not as clearly murderous out in the streets as it was in Palermo in the 70-80s. They are in the depths of politics and business today. As my friend the taxi driver told me in Sicily: If you have a fierce competitor, you would rather get a corrupt judge to put him in jail to destroy him. Or, as our writer Francesca Borri has mentioned about her Italian hometown of Bari, they nowadays often control the entire shopping street where she normally sits and writes. And if a car is stolen, you do not go to the police, but rather try to solve it via one of the clans in the neighborhood.


Corruption has been the subject of several of the festival's films, such as in Steven Soderbergh's The Laundromat – on Panama Papers, by Meryl Streep & co. is close to this corrupt, tax evading business (based on Jake Bernstein's book Secrecy World). Or how about the worm An Officer and a Spy (J'accuse) by Roman Polanski, about the power at the top of the Dreyfus affair? And the satirical docu-fiction Mafia is Not What it Used to Be by Franco Maresco. Corruption and power are also behind the documentary Citizen K by professional Alex Gibney: Yes, what do you think Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky could tell from his exile in Switzerland?

Or how about Italian Paolo Sorrentino's sumptuous TV series The New Pope, where we saw two episodes in Venice of the upcoming season (after The Young Pope). In the upper Vatican circles of power, we see ultra-conservative Pope Pius XIII (Jude Law) fall ill and fall into a coma, and then be replaced by his liberal and uncompromising successor John Paul III (John Malkovich at his best). Director Sorrentino films humorously and aesthetically with rhetorical language games, nepotism and a lot of sensuality – in both Venezuela and Rome.

The New Pope

Are life's tragedies, mafia and corruption really so typical of Italy, or the festival in Venice?

Olivier Assaya's feature film Wasp Network in Venice is closely based on Fernando Morais' book The Story of the Cuban Five (2015). Since a number of exile Cubans in the United States wanted to kill Fidel Castro in the 90s, he sent out a number of Cuban spies who infiltrated these, to prevent terrorist attacks against Cuba. These attacks as well-known tourist beaches and hotels to cripple the tourism economy. They even financed their anti-Castro business through anesthesia smuggling from Colombia and elsewhere. But Castro's own spies were silenced in Miami, where the FBI arrested all of them, with the following long prison sentences for these – which were to prevent terror. As Castro himself states in a documentary piece towards the end of the film, the reaction from the United States was ridiculous, as the United States itself has deployed CIA agents around the world – both to detect terror and to safeguard American interests. The patriotic Cuban spies left their families in hiding, and at home were called traitors, later revealed to be the country's heroes – but often ended up with more than 15 years in US prison.


Back to Italy, and the Italian TV series Zero Zero Zero directed by, among others, Stefano Sollima and Janus Metz – based on the aforementioned Savianos cocaine book Zero Zero Zero from 2015. Saviano has also helped with the co-series' screenplay – about this "white gold," the cocaine transported from South America and Mexico to Italy.

Zero Zero Zero

The series starts in Calabria, where the aging Mafia boss within the so-called 'Ndrangheta reigns in hiding from his cave in the ground. The tragic is striking, so the mafia boss narrative voice starts by describing the mentality of life where everyone turns their back on you unless you give them something. Or when they no longer need you. And if your kids don't get enough money, they say you're not happy enough with them. Also, wives and mothers are quickly faced with "you don't love me" as soon as you don't take care of them ... This old Italian in Calabria is about to be taken away by days of competing clans, but promises in a mafia meeting staggering nine billion to the competing leaders, to keep them in check.

The series, based on Saviano's research, moves between Italians, corrupt Mexican military and American shipbrokers. The series jumps interestingly dramaturgically in time, unlike all the chronological films mentioned above – and takes place in Italian, English, Spanish and Calabrian!

And again, when power is corrupt, the result is personal tragedies: The film's shipbuilder Edward Lynwood (David Byrne) has a daughter and son – similar to the two in Portuguese A Hardened - the young woman who is strong and right on the case, and the somewhat awkward silent brother. Are the children again suffering from their parents' behavior? You can see that when the rest of the series is released on Amazon Prime next year ...

Also read: The fire victims of corruption

Truls Lie
Truls Liehttp: /www.moderntimes.review/truls-lie
Editor-in-chief in MODERN TIMES. See previous articles by Lie i Le Monde diplomatique (2003–2013) and Morgenbladet (1993-2003) See also part video work by Lie here.

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