“Between the Sicilian mafia, the Neapolitan camorra, the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia and the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, Italy has enough organized crime to power an army of film and TV dramas. But how many ways can you say ‘violence begets violence’?” asks Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. “Black Souls (Anime nere), based on a novel by Gioacchino Criaco and directed by award-winning auteur Francesco Munzi, chooses the classic route of Greek tragedy, which is a natural match for the hard-faced, tight-lipped characters who spiral into general disaster…. Here, the sober naturalism of the acting (most of the cast is known for their stage work) and the heartbreaking beauty of the wild Aspromonte mountains on the Mediterranean coast leave a strong impression that the viewer is being taken behind the scenes of a criminal family that still raises goats while it runs an international drug ring.”
“Black Souls aspires to be a variation sui generis of the canonical mafia movie, a sort of ethnographic study of the shifting generational paradigms of organized crime,” writes Celluloid Liberation Front for Cinema Scope. “While Black Souls stands its ground when walking the delicate slopes of ethnographic rendition, it fails to stand out for any other particular reason. It is beautifully lensed, soberly acted and directed, but somehow lacks that extra gear that would help it move away from the contrived machinations that the genre itself seems to impose.”
“That strange, conflicted tone of ‘operatic realism’ that the critic and essayist Phillip Lopate found in the films of Luchino Visconti also runs through the core of Munzi’s film,” finds the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “Fans of Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, which told an even more intricate story of the Camorran crime syndicate from Naples, 200 miles up the coast, might find this equally thrilling, if far less frantic.”
The story, as briefly sketched by Camillo de Marco at Cineuropa: “Luigi, the dealer, is determined and impulsive, Rocco is the ‘white collar’ integrated in Milanese society. A long-distance clash with another mafia family, caused by their nephew Leo, will push him to return to his home town, Africo, the symbol of the ‘ndrangheta, where Luciano, the third and oldest brother lives. Only Luciano is nothing like them. Following the murder of his father many years previously, he shut himself up in a bubble of goat-herding and religion. The loose cannon that he will have to face is his son Leo, a twenty-year-old, who wants to go to Milan and be like uncle Luigi.”
“As mafia plots go, Black Souls doesn’t veer far from its significant number of predecessors,” writes Variety‘s Jay Weissberg. “Unlike Gomorrah, the film isn’t aiming for a connect-the-dots approach in which petty henchmen of the Camorra are seen as part of a global network; the Amsterdam scene here is almost superfluous, a mere nod to the ‘Ndrangheta’s offshore scope. Instead, Munzi focuses on incongruous leftovers from a benighted past, where kinship and blood feuds in a marginalized corner of rural Italy fester until entire communities are drawn into a whirlpool of intimidation and violence.”
“What makes the film different,” suggests Tom Christie at Thompson on Hollywood, “is its chiaroscuro treatment of an old-school mob world, the Calabrian countryside and dialect—the screening here featured subtitles in Italian as well as English—and its shocking denouement. But as interesting as the ending is, it’s also entirely unconvincing.”
Three out of five stars from John Bleasdale at CineVue.