Reel Shorts | Black Souls


After generations of crime have taken root in the descendants of goat-herders, the misfortunes of three brothers collide in the dark, foreboding Italian crime-drama, Black Souls.

The sons of a former goat-herder who was a member of Calabria’s mafia, the “Ndrangheta, The Carbones are a house divided. Despite their older brother, Luciano (Fabrizio Ferracane) insistence that he wants nothing to do with the “family business,” his two younger brothers Luigi (Marco Leonardi) and Rocco (Peppino Mazzotta) are successfully making moves to solidify their standing in their criminal enterprise.

While Luciano is content to live a quiet life tending to goats in the hills of Southern Italy, his stubborn, hot-tempered son, Leo (Giuseppe Fumo) aspires to be in business with his more flamboyant uncles. After he feels that a local rival has disrespected his family’s name, his act of retaliation sends him, temporarily, to Milan to hole up with the cosmopolitan Rocco and the charismatic leader of the family business, Luigi.

When the word of Leo’s act reaches the other families of the ‘Ndrangheta, it sets in course a series of actions that has the brothers inwardly examine their motivations, as well as look back at the violent history of their involvement in the bloody, criminal underworld.

Although the story is firmly rooted in present day Italy, for American audiences director Francesco Munzi’s morality tale has strong overtones to Francis Ford Coppola’s landmark mob story, The Godfather. Despite the similarities in the three brothers in both stories, the family business aspect, the old-style family conflicts, the story’s country terrain even puts audiences in the mind of Michael Corleone’s exile to Italy after killing the corrupt police captain in Part 1.

Munzi’s story shifts the focus of his criminal enterprise from the cliched Sicilian-based mafia, La Cosa Nostra to spotlight the burgeoning ‛Ndrangheta. Centered in Calabria and despite not being as famous abroad as their Sicilian brethern, The ‛Ndrangheta became the most powerful crime syndicate of Italy over the past twenty years and their twisted loyalties and under-handed treachery among each other are fully on display in this story.

While Coppola’s classic cinematically hovers over the proceeds on the surface, the day-to-day dealings mirror the drama of another complex look at the mechanics of the mob, The Sopranos. The Carbones appear to be a cursed clan who are still reconciling the loss of their father, despite doing business with a man who, allegedly, may be responsible for his demise. To make matters worse, there is a sense of dread and guilt that hangs over Luciano who is not only powerless to prevent his two brothers from joining the “Ndrangheta but now is losing his grip on his son to prevent him from going down the same road.

Based on Gioacchino Criaco’s novel, Anime Black, Munzi’s screenplay is another stark, yet grim reminder that they are always causalities in battle and the most dangerous opponent is not the enemy you see, but the hiddeon one within. The story offers no hope or anecdote but pulls the curtain back to show us a dysfunctional family still grieving over different generations.

Although Black Souls may have a lot in common with its cinematic ancestors, the Corleones and Sopranos, at its core, this Shakespearean tale of a family slowly becoming unhinged feels more like a Greek tragedy instead of a story of family from the boot.

Grade: B-