A bomb explosion is not what makes a war. Revenge, threat and fear can make more casualties than fighting at the front, especially because they have neither beginning nor ending, they could last all your life and your relatives’ life. This subtler war is a matter of family, and in Southern Italy family can be the reason to fight for. In the region of Calabria, this war is called ‘ndrangheta and it still exists even though nobody can see it. The film Black Souls by Francesco Munzi tells a story which is rarely told even at the cinema with the realism that fictional stories about a dramatic reality need.
Luigi and Rocco are involved in the family business of drug-trafficking on a very high scale, but Luciano has remained in the mountains of Calabria, content with a life of herding goats and finding simple happiness. His son Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) has no respect for dad’s domesticity, naturally drawn to the flash and sizzle of his uncles. When during the night Leo shoots at a bar protected by the rival clan of the village, Africo, pride and fear wake up again. A provocation is the answer to another provocation. The shooting is in Leo’s opinion a proof of courage and a way to affirm his identity towards the rival clan. So Leo’s father gets involved in the same feud he dissociated himself from. After that Leo needs a change and reaches his uncles Luigi and Rocco in Milan, where, against his father’s wishes, he is drawn further into the criminal underworld. Luigi is always moving along Europe reaching commercial deals with South Americans and Rocco, who lives his bourgeois life with his wife in Milan, has made his fortune in international trade. After Leo’s stunt, the rival clan’s boss calls the uncles in Milan. Revenge and pride arise again and the two set off for their South, answering that fatal recall.
A fine grey mist rising from the sea goes pouring up the sides of the mountains of Aspromonte, where the clank of the bells of the long-haired goat and the church’s bells are the only sounds to be heard. This is the setting for much of Black Souls, a slow-burning crime drama by the roman director Munzi who tells the story through the fresh look of an outsider inspired by the namesake book to explore the ancestral culture of Calabria. Threat is the common language to establish your own strength, provocation is the way to make the others respect your own rules. A crime system which only generates death and tragedy. Munzi’s film is a mob movie steeped in misery. Crime has impacted these people so deeply that it has blackened their souls, even those who have reached out to try and live a normal life. Black Souls describes a world of isolation and violence where the clan’s values become the only laws. Sacrificing your own son’s or father’s life is not very different from slitting a pig’s throat if requested by the clan.
Isn’t this a war? A war you don’t choose to fight and yet you accept because you can’t help it, it’s around you. No winners and no losers in this war, no heroes in this tragedy. No hope to free your soul from the black.