Thursday, May 31, 2018

OPEN ROADS 2018: Crime, the Church and the Mafia in the D'Innocenzo brothers' BOYS CRY and Vincenzo Marra's EQUILIBRIUM

One subject the FSLC annual series, OPEN ROADS, usually includes in its round-up of new Italian films is -- hello -- the Mafia in one ugly iteration or another. This year includes at least two such films (of those I've been able to view). Both are interesting and relatively well-executed, but the more-so of the two proves to be the one that takes the quieter, less-traveled and less-overtly-violent-while-being-even-more awful-to-contemplate route.

In EQUILIBRIUM (L'equilibrio), written and directed by Vincenzo Marra, the first thing we see is the famous Warner Brothers logo (the studio clearly had something to do with funding and/or distribution), which leads you to wonder why Warners never makes American movies that are this timely or important. The film shows us -- slowly, simply, shockingly via life in an Italian suburb -- the intersection of crime, environmental contamination, government failure and The Catholic Church.

This quartet of horrors, in which the Church proves the most horrible, has reduced the populace to near-literal slavery and many, many deaths. When a handsome, middle-aged priest (newcomer Mimmo Borrelli, above), trying to avoid a would-be romantic entanglement, requests a transfer from Rome back to his home-town parrish, he is suddenly confronted by all of this -- which understandably takes him some time to comprehend. (Why is the church school's playground closed off to the children so that a pet goat can stay there?)

Our hero, for that is certainly what he is, begins trying to change things. But how does one man, even if he is a priest, go up against this combination of powers? ("That collar," notes one of the crime gang, "is the only only thing keeping you alive, Father.") Filmmaker Marra does a quietly powerful job of making all this seem as believable as it is disgusting, and our priest's (as well as the viewer's) increasing shock at the deep involvement of the Church in abetting and covering up the crime lords' environmental pollution, drug sales, and sex abuse, makes it ever more difficult for him to do the job he believes he must do.

It won't take much pushing to see Equilibrium as a look at where the USA itself is heading under the current control of Republicans and the Trump administration. The only thing missing here is the criminal/Mafia element. But with this administration, Congress and our devolving court system, the criminal element is already built in. And so far as the Catholic Church is concerned, simply replace this priest with a member of a Christian fundamentalist church who just wants that church to get back to the real teachings of Jesus instead of preaching bigotry and hatred, and you'd have a nifty American version.

Meanwhile, Equilibrium, in Italian with English subtitles and running just 90 minutes, will play Open Roads this Sunday, June 3, at 1pm (there will be a Q&A with Vincenzo Marra, shown above, right, following the screening) and Wednesday, June 6, at 4:30pm. Click here for more information and/or tickets.

A new, young Italian filmmaking team of brothers, Damiano D'Innocenzo and Fabio D'Innocenzo, are at the helm, as writers and directors, of BOYS CRY (La terra dell'abbastanza), another gangland-driven drama included in Open Roads. Although flashier, cinematically darker, and considerably more violent and bloody than Equilibrium, TrustMovies found the brothers' movie a little too been there/done that to qualify as anything exactly "new." Still, in terms of pitch dark movies about family, friendship, betrayal, stupidity and greed, this one has got to rank pretty high.

The D'Innocenzo brothers (shown above) have contrived a tale of two "best friends"-- Mirko (newcomer Matteo Olivetti, below, right) and Manolo (Andrea Carpenzano, below, left) who, in terms of honesty, decency and anything approaching actual friendship, have a lot to learn. Instead, thanks to Manolo's dumb dad, the pair becomes involved with the local gang and is soon acting as its go-to hit men.

Everything about the movie seems a tad too "manufactured" in order to demonstrate its themes of betrayal and greed. From the opening car accident to the identity of its victim to the gangland connection right on through to the final, full-circle irony -- which is far too pat to be taken seriously -- everything clicks so nicely into place that the rub-your-face-in-the-dirt reality the brothers so seem to want comes at the expense of some believability.

The look of the film is spectacularly cruddy, intentionally so, I've no doubt. With gangland films set in Sicily, we can usually look forward to some beautiful location cinematography. What you get here is ugly-and-then-some. Performances are as fine all around as they're allowed to be, with barely a chance given to any character except maybe Mirko's mom (Milena Mancini, above) to behave in any way other than badly.

Still, the charisma of the two leads, coupled to their characters' unrelieved stupidity, may rope in the younger set, while providing more mature audiences with yet another chance to ponder raw youth at its least appetizing.

In Italian with English subtitles and running 95 minutes, Boys Cry screens at Open Roads on Sunday, June 3, at 3:30 pm (after which there will be a Q&A with the D'Innocenzo brothers) and Tuesday June 5 at 2:30 pm. Click here to view the entire Open Roads series, and here and here to see my earlier posts on this year's films.

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