Suburra (2015)

First published by Real Crime Magazine

“3 November, 2011 – Seven Days to the Apocalypse”.

So reads text near the beginning of Stefano Sollimo’s Suburra, initiating a countdown that will punctuate and propel the rest of the film’s intersecting narratives. A prologue in which the Pope whispers to an alarmed-looking priest has already hinted at the nature of this approaching Apocalypse: the Father of Fathers intends to resign his Pontificate. Over the course of the next week, several other pillars of Roman patriarchy will likewise collapse.

A man commits suicide, leaving his otherwise decent, well-connected son Sebastiano (Elio Germano) suddenly compromised by inherited debts to a rising mob ‘Gypsy’ family who are out to avenge the murder of one of their own. Meanwhile hot-headed young Ostia gangster ‘No. 8’ (Alessandro Borghi), burdened by the reputation of his late, much-respected mobster father, must rein in his impulses – and his junkie girlfriend (Greta Scarano) – long enough for a huge inter-family deal to go through which will see his turf become a new Las Vegas. To facilitate this beachside development, corrupt politician (and father) Filippo Malgradi (Pierfrancesco Favino) is rushing a bill through parliament before his party falls apart, even as his own personal transgressions are making waves. And representing the interests of the established criminal families of Rome and the South, all-knowing, ruthless ‘Samurai’ (Claudio Amendola), named for his old-fashioned honour, will do anything to ensure that the deal runs smoothly.

As these different plots criss-cross and crash, and as everyone pushes to build their own new empire from the mud, we are presented with a panoramic view of an eternal city where only the guards ever really change. While the title Suburra in part echoes the trisyllabic sonority of Matteo Garrone’s Neapolitan mafia saga Gomorra (2008) – whose television spinoff series Sollimo directed – Suburra was also the name of the lower-class red-light district in Ancient Rome where Julius Caesar grew up. That heady mix of sex, crime and power, abiding still in modern Rome, is the main theme. The city may, over millennia, and over these seven days, have undergone seismic shifts in its structures, but the historic foundations remain intact, and the same as ever. There will still be a Pope, a Godfather, a Prime Minister – if perhaps all under different names. It’s a rain-soaked, noir-shaded city symphony revealing a Roman empire that is always ending.

© Anton Bitel