Francesco Munzi talks about the extensive research behind his Venice competition tilte Black Souls, about the Calabrian mafia.

Francesco Munzi’s Black Souls (Anime Nere), the Venice Competition title sold by Rai Com, is being billed by some as the ‘new Gomorrah’. The film, about a farmer’s three sons who all become involved in crime, offers a detailed insight into the inner workings of the Calabrian Mafia.

The film is based on the novel by Gioacchino Criaco. Although this is a fictional piece, Munzi says that the film is deeply rooted in fact.

It was shot in Calabria, which he notes “has the reputation of being the most Mafia infested place in the country,” with a cast of locals, found on the streets, working alongside professionals.

The director didn’t have direct contact with Mafia members. “Obviously, working there, I met all sorts of people with all sorts of pasts,” he recalls. “Certainly, I didn’t search out convicts - but there is a background there to some people of course.”

Munzi did extensive research. “I started out almost doing a documentary,” the director tells ScreenDaily. “We went down (to southern Italy) and captured interviews with local people. Unlike in Gomorrah, I didn’t focus on the sociological aspect. I focused instead on the story of a family.

“Calabria is a place that has its own identity and that sits apart from the rest of Italy. Right from the beginning, it was clear to me that dialect was an important part of putting that across.”

Authentic dialogue

The local actors were heavily involved in tailoring the dialogue to make it authentic. The fact that he was making a fictional film enabled them “to talk freely…the fact that everybody is acting, even if they are playing a part not that different from their own experiences, had something anarchic and liberating about it. Even if you have a dark past, if you play a role, you can let that out.”

Munzi denies that the film is in any way glamorizing violence. The aim is simply to present the world of the Mafia in an honest, precise and matter of fact way.

The director acknowledges that the film may provoke different responses in Italian and international audiences. “But it is focusing on this particular family and their story. I think there is a certain universality to the topic. It is a criminal family in very particular circumstances but it is a family with many of the same dynamics you would find anywhere.”

Black Souls has taken many years to finance. Unless you’re making comedies, funding any Italian film is a stretch, the director observes. “We had to take the long road and find many small partners with relatively small contributions.”

In one way, though, the lengthy gestation was an advantage, enabling Munzi to develop strong relations with the community in Calabria and to research the project in depth.

Black Souls is shot in a realistic fashion but is not intended to be too naturalistic. “I wanted a Gothic, somewhat dark look with high contrasts.”

Munzi is hoping the film will counter some of the prejudices still held by outsiders about Southern Italy. “I am not prettifying the situation there,” he says. “[The film] doesn’t always show them (the locals) in a good light…but what I was very careful not to do was mythologize the violence and crime. There is a certain tendency in Italy right now, a certain fashion, for depicting gang life as cool. I really wanted to avoid that.”

In the long run, Munzi acknowledges that it may make sense to work outside Italy. He has completed three features in roughly a decade and bemoans the lack of Italian producers ready to support auteur-driven cinema. “It is something I’d be open to,” he says of working abroad. “It is something I want to experiment with - but I will need to brush up my English.”