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Roberto Saviano is the author and journalist forced into hiding after publishing his 2006 exposé Gomorrah about the Neapolitan mafia – which became the basis for the very successful movie directed by Matteo Garrone – and he still requires police protection. Now Saviano has adapted his 2010 novel La Paranza dei Bambini, or The Children’s Gang, for the screen; the director and co-writer is Claudio Giovannesi, whose credits include episodes of the TV version of Gomorrah.
It is a fiction, based on real experiences, of teenage gangsters with grownup violence, grownup paranoia and grownup guns: which is to say, the infantile mannerisms of the grownup professional criminals. Giovannesi’s movie is watchable enough, but often looks like a smoothed-out, planed-down version of Garrone’s Gomorrah: Gomorrah without the rough edges, like a classy television version. This is especially true of that scene in Gomorrah when the teen mobsters try out their guns, like kids with new toys. The boisterous group scenes of the boys are well enough done, and the film shows an awareness of Visconti, Scorsese and even De Palma, but this feels like an accomplished yet creatively unambitious piece of work.
The kids live in the mob-stronghold area of Naples ironically called Sanità, the “district of health” (the setting of some De Sica films). Nicola (Francesca Di Napoli) is a 15-year-old whose mum runs a dry-cleaning business, and like every other hard-pressed businessperson she has to endure swaggering gangsters demanding their protection money. Nicola himself dreams of making it big through crime; with his gang of buddies he robs a jewellery store, and here is where the movie demonstrates a certain irony.
The mobsters’ “protection” racket does work in its way: the proprietor notifies the mob of this unlicensed incursion and the wiseguys smartly bring in our hapless teen heroes to hand back the loot and receive a violent lesson in respect. But defiant Nicola asks the gangster to give him a job selling weed to students – the criminals’ other main income stream – and from there Nicola and his friends work their way up the food chain with the ambitious and resourceful Nicola establishing new alliances and criminal mentorships.
In a way, the best scene is the one at the beginning: the kid gangs, still in their childish stage, indulge in running battles at the local mall, angrily disputing territorial “ownership” of the big Christmas tree, a confrontation that results in it being pulled down and dragged away as a trophy. The symbolism is obvious enough. Christmas is over. Childhood is over. What remains is an adult kind of responsibility poisoned by guns and paranoia: a de-evolution to a childishness without innocence. Or perhaps the de-evolution goes further still.
The English title of the film is Piranhas: appropriate enough. Nicola and his gang are like tiny fish, working as an insidiously efficient team, parasitically gobbling down the flesh of their victims by swarming over them en masse. They have the life expectancy of criminal mayflies.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Piranhas review – Neapolitan gangster-kids drama lacks bite | Berlin film festival 2019