Updated: Jul 10, 2020
The new online release Piranhas by filmmaker Claudio Giovannesi is another tale on Italian mafia, more specifically the Neapolitan organisation known as Comorra. Giovannesi teams up once again with writer Roberto Saviano -- he previously directed the TV series "Gomorrah" -- to print new colours to the well known genre. The script, signed by Giovannesi, Saviano and Maurizio Braucci, won Silver Bear in Berlinale 2019 and evokes the tiny fish who are attracted to a bright light meant for bigger fish. The metaphor applies well to the young rioters. So well indeed that the movie brings new blood to the genre.
How do you tell a story that you already know it is meant to end in trouble? By introducing gripping camera moves and charismatic characters, with a little help from a provocateur.
When Saviano launched his debut book, I was living in Italy. I could then witness how daring the publication was and how many hidden stories the mafia held. Saviano used to go every Sunday to a very popular TV show to name the criminals and explain how Comorra works. The audience response was far from apathy: hate, surprise, recognition, relief, sense of justice.
In Piranhas, though, Saviano doesn't name names. The focus is on Nicolas (Nico), 15, loosely based on Emanuele Sibillo, who was gunned down in 2015. Nico lives in the central area of Naples, a neighbourhood controlled by the mafia. His mother has to pay fees whenever a "collector" comes into her store; the same happens to every other small business and street vendor. Nico's motivation to cease this power abuse is personal and the way he decides to do it is by getting inside the crime organisation. In his own words, "I have no other choice".
Nico is a natural young leader among his friends. To them, boyhood is a license for violence, just like in Goat (Andrew Neels, 2016). The opening sequence in which the gang invades a shopping mall to turn down a Christmas tree and burn it is a light intro of what you'll see. Somehow it's less shocking than in the book: the book opens with Nico and his friends holding down a teenager, shouting at him, and then defecating on the boy's eyes, nose and lips.
The intimidation that drives Nico appears on the screen not only in his acts, but also in the camera fast moves and angle changes. Most of the time, the camera is on the waist and head height, so that the audience follows his quick and instinct response.
Once inside the organisation, Nico soon demands power. Just like in City of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002), Piranhas shows how the young generation comes into power by controlling the drug dens and joining forces with the big mafiosi. Nico's aspirations are a show-off game: he fights to get in the disco, despite being under 18; he succeeds in protecting his neighborhood from other gangsters; he wants a house full of luxury to his mother. Although Nico is gaining power and money, he hasn't ceased to be a small fish. In the most beautiful and emblematic scene, Giovannesi picks Nico inside his tiny and decayed house surrounded by luxurious newly purchased furniture that takes too much room at home.
Piranhas is not only violence and greed. The film portrays Naples culture, religion, nature and music, that serve as a device to fulfill Nico's fantasies. The score includes the obvious reference to opera, but also the kitsch soundtrack for a wedding ceremony and the traditional Neapolitan serenade.
Nico is played by Francesco di Napoli. He is so good that he doesn't seem to be acting. He's just like any kid I met in Italy.
Piranhas is available on Digital Download (iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google & Chili) from 13th July.