Director: Michele Placido | 125 minutes | drama, thriller, biography, crime | Actors: Kim Rossi Stuart, Filippo Timi, Moritz Bleibtreu, Valeria Solarino, Paz Vega, Francesco Scianna, Gaetano Bruno, Nicola Acunzo, Stefano Chiodaroli, Lino Guanciale, Paolo Mazzarelli, Federico Pacifici, Monica Barladeanu, Lia Gotti, Gerardo Amato, Adriana De Guilmi, Lorenzo Gleijeses, Riccardo Cicogna, Federica Vincenti, Matilde Maggio, Massimo Sagramola, Toni Pandolfo, Stefano Fregni
A gangster film in a country where the bandit is still part of the national identity, where crime still pays and where the head of state has great difficulty standing on his pedestal but still enjoys overwhelming support is a sensitive matter. After the raucous “Gomorrah” of 2009, the discussion flared up – the director even had to flee from Naples’ current organized crime groups. That film, which sometimes did not portray the crime world in a stylish and romantic way, was rightly overloaded with international awards, but in Italy the atmosphere was tense and not everyone turned out to be ready for a massive reflection. Then a film that romanticizes the bandit of yesteryear in a traditional way and gives a handsome face, between wealth and beautiful women, may be easy to digest.
In the movie “Vallanzasca” only the premise of the bandits is important. Even if they shoot cops, you’re on their side because you’ve been there the whole movie. It is also a much more charming, exciting and glamorous side than that of the “good guys”. Perhaps the norms and values of the bandits sometimes seem a bit old-fashioned, but the viewer has to make their own reservations. Director Placido has opted for a classic narrative, which mainly highlights cinematic dramas and adventures. As a viewer, you are therefore assured of two hours of entertaining cinema, without asking too many questions.
The presence of several non-Italian European film stars in the film is striking. The well-known Spanish Paz Vega plays Antonella, the ever-loyal love interest of Renato, with whom he – as the afterwords teach us – married in 1995, and the German star Moritz Bleibtreu is almost unrecognizable at the side of Renato as reliable right-hand man Sergio. Michele Placido is no newcomer to the directorial profession and has received worldwide acclaim for his earlier “Romanzo criminale” (from 2005, also with Kim Rossi Stuart). Moreover, in addition to experience as a director, he also has no undeserved track record as an actor (including in the mafia series “La piovra”). This connection with acting has probably ensured that each of the performers is convincing. The Italian homeliness and style permeate every scene, pushing the proximity to the characters to great heights.
Director Placido is all too aware that he still touches open wounds and touches on things that have not yet left the country. What he wants to convey to the public is less clear. “I hope the audience feels the sense of wonder we felt in trying to understand how a nice young man, good-looking and smart, your typical boy next door, would choose to become an angel of evil,” says Placido. This is of course the crux of the film. The reason why young men roll into crime out of sheer desperation is obvious, but why young middle-class people become the nation’s greatest bandits without apparent difficulty is a more interesting matter. The answer may explain in part why a country like Italy still has a head of state who is above the law. And why organized crime still has and keeps large parts of the country in its grip. “The perverse fantasy of the Italian housewife”, Renato Vallanzasca calls it, in a scene in which he is sent piles of fan mail. The Italian housewife has apparently changed little, judging by the large number of female supporters Berlusconi still has today. A film like “Vallanzasca – Angels of Evil” touches on these national problems, perhaps character traits, but does not make them short, as Gomorrah dared before. Perhaps because Vallanzasca is still alive and still enjoys a certain star status in the Milanese underworld? Because Placido also has a certain “older stamp”? Be that as it may, this film will mean little to a renewed Italy, all the more so for a delighted audience.