Suburra

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You don’t quite know what you are watching at the start of Suburra but you do know straight away that you’re watching something special. 

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The opening moments seem to be telling a contemporary religious tale; something is up in The Vatican, then we are into politics and there is obvious corruption in parliament. Ultimately it becomes a gangster flick but right from the beginning, before the plot has finished being constructed, there is real film-craft on display. 

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Whatever you may get from it, Suburra is well shot, expertly framed, cleverly composed and tightly plotted. Different story threads play out and intertwine and having grabbed you at the beginning, while you were trying to work out what genre you were in, it does not let you go. 

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For me though there was more. I saw in Suburra meaningful shot juxtapositions, clever imagery and mise en scène but all so subtly done as to make them almost missable. In fact some of it might actually have been in my head. Maybe the dog wasn’t a metaphor for the dangers of brutality begetting brutality ultimately destroying those who foolishly feel they can control it. Maybe it was just a dog. Similarly perhaps the rain wasn’t supposed to signify purification and righteous redemption, perhaps it wasn’t eluding to Old Testament justice and religion’s struggle to hold moral superiority in a modern secular world. It could have just been the weather. I seriously couldn’t swear to you much of it was intentional but I saw symbolism and mysticism in this film alongside the stabbing and shooting. That’s the movie I watched. To me Suburra is not just a thriller, it is a triumph of stylised realism. 

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What it undeniably is, no matter how you read it, is a superior and intricate crime drama. Suburra is an Italian film, set in and around Rome, that tells the story of a group of mobsters involved in deals with government officials. Everything starts to unravel when some people on the periphery of all of this die and everyone goes to extreme measures to maintain their reputation and influence. I’m not exaggerating when I say it deserves to be talked about with the same reverence afforded movies like Heat and Once Upon a Time in America.

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The thing Suburra most reminded me of though, with the mix of murder and politics in a European location, was The Killing. This is interesting because when comparing a cinema release to a TV show would once have indicated some limitations on the part of the movie, now TV has become a lot more cinematic. It is also interesting because Suburra could actually be seen as the pilot for something we will soon see on the box. Netflix partially funded the film and it is to be followed by ten hour long episodes to be streamed later this year. Appropriately Suburra is in select cinemas but is also on demand for watching at home.

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Director Stefano Sollima comes from a TV background too, having worked on the Gomorrah show (not to be confused with the Gomorrah film from Matteo ‘Tale of Tales’ Garrone which is a different adaptation of the same book). He is now going on to make the Sicario sequel which based on this seems like a good call. 

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What Suburra doesn’t have is anyone you can really root for, with the possible exception of Greta Scarano’s Viola. This doesn’t matter so much as you are still gripped by the action and a desire to see how it all plays out and who, if anyone, comes out on top. The show will need a hero though and it would be great if after such a male dominated film it turns out to be her. 

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Suburra is scored beautifully by French electronic band M83 who wrote the music for Oblivion and have had tracks on other foreign language movies such as Rust & Bone. You might expect the ambient electro music to jar with the violence on screen but oddly it really works. Like every aspect of this film it all plays brilliantly. 

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The Ripley Factor: 
As suggested, female characters are a little marginalised in the film and those that do feature are genre archetypes like prostitutes and molls. 

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There is nudity in the film which is not quite balanced between the genders but the worlds of sex and violence are both depicted unflinchingly, which while not always comfortable, does give the film some punch.

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As I say, with ten more little instalments on the way there is time to sort this out.

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