Dir: Antonio Capuano. Italy. 2001. 117mins.

"The only way you can control people", says the Mafia boss, "is if they know you can kill them anytime you want". This upbeat moral epigram could provide the poster tag for Antonio Capuano's new film, which screened in the main competition at Venice. Luna Rossa (Red Moon) is a stylised, unrepetantly auteur-ish exploration of life, death and camera angles in a Camorra (Neapolitan mafia) family. References to Greek tragedy - especially the Oresteia - abound, and the film more than once slips over into pretension. However, this is the first real attempt by an Italian director to portray the Mafia from the inside; and the morbid fascination of the theme - fully exploited by Capuano - could generate better domestic results on the arthouse circuit than the film's lukewarm Venice reception might suggest.

The Cammarano family live in a high-security villa in a suburb of Naples. They control the surrounding area with an iron fist: drugs, gambling, protection money, building contracts and the manipulation of local and national politicians are all part of their mandate. But we get only fleeting glimpses of the business side of the operation; what Capuano is really interested in are the tensions and lines of fracture within the family itself, played out in the claustrophobic house, with its worn-out furniture and flickering TV screens. Eventually, the younger generation - represented by Oreste and his sister Orsola - will undermine the old order and put an end to an increasingly abstract, inhuman spiral of violence.

This is, in other words, a cramped, tight ensemble piece, a filmed drama, in which acting and dialogue are thrown into high relief. The director keeps us entertained with style tricks - heads framed in the lower corner of the screen or cut off at the top, black and white flashbacks, video inserts; but this fails to make up for the dramatic weakness of some of the scenes and the wobbliness of some of the acting.

And there are passages of dialogue that would sound over-stylised even in an Abel Ferrara movie. The reference is deliberate: Capuano has stated that the idea for Luna Rossa came to him after watching Ferrara's Mafia film The Funeral at Venice in 1996, and deciding that he could do better. In some ways he has: this is a more artistically assured film, whose striking visuals are underscored by a throbbing electronic soundtrack by ethnic indie-rockers Almamegretta. And there are some nice touches of dark humour - like the ever-changing hair colour of the Mafia wife played by Licia Maglietta. But in the end, although Luna Rossa's carousel of execution, betrayal and incest has a certain mesmeric power, it does not provide the plot tension that this film lacks.

Prod co: Poetiche Cinematografiche
Int'l sales: Sharada
Prod: Andrea De Liberato
Scr: Antonio Capuano
Cinematography: Tommaso Borgstrom
Prod des: Paolo Petti
Ed: Luciana Pandolfelli
Music: Gatti & Polcari
Main cast: Carlo Cecchi, Licia Maglietta, Toni Servillo, Antonino Iuorio, Angela Pagano, Italo Celoro, Lucia Ragni, Antonio Pennarella, Domenico Balsamo, Antonia Truppo.