Filmed in a Roman prison using a cast of convicted criminals, punchy docudrama “Facts About the Magliana Gang” expressively evokes the vulgarity and ferocity of the organized crime gang that controlled Rome in the ’80s. Director Daniele Costantini’s offbeat take on the Mafia genre is closer to a surreal black comedy, while his more-real-than-real actors offer auds the surrogate thrill of getting up close to some seriously dangerous minds. Offbeat summer entry had too little action to rob local wickets on late-May release, but pic’s curious intensity could help it break in to webs and smaller fests.
Claustrophobic setting is a bunker-courtroom, empty except for a judge (unseen until the final shot) behind his desk. In this black space, a criminal known as Riccetto, who has turned state’s evidence, brazenly calls on living and dead gangsters to appear and reconstruct the facts relating to the gang’s activities. Each has his own point of view to promote, and they bicker and nearly come to blows, even accusing each other of their deaths.
Luckily the whole film isn’t confined to this theatrical non-space. The action breaks out into the streets and bars where the gang members met; the apartments where they kept their mistresses; plus morgues, cemeteries, and a country road where they kidnapped a duke. There’s a lot of ground to cover, from the gang’s inception in 1977 as a consortium of local bosses of equal weight, through its zenith in the first half of the ’80s, to its decline and disbandment during 1987-91.
Costantini, a stage helmer who’s twice before ventured into feature filmmaking (“A Week Like Any Other,” “Midsummer”), has so much material to work with that at times the confessions get bogged down in numbing detail and enervating squabbles. Also, pic barely touches on the gang’s involvement in the big political scandals of the time: the kidnapping of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro, the murder of banker Roberto Calvi, and the fascist bombings aimed at destabilizing Italy. Without this, the film loses some golden opportunities to broaden its heft.
Still, pic has a wicked, “Sopranos”-like humor, especially for those attuned to the grosser side of Roman slang and the droll imagination and ferociousness of Roman subculture as explored by Pier Paolo Pasolini in films like “Accattone.” So convincing is these Mafiosos’ lazy, high-living approach to life that one finds oneself rooting for them against their enemies — the ruthless “Neapolitans,” the white-suited Sicilians, the Marseilles gang, and even the police.
Cast is sharp, and it is truly hard to tell the pro actors (including Leo Gullotta in a cameo as the judge, and Francesco Pannofino, Roberto Brunetti, Francesco Dominedo and Fabio Grossi as gangsters) from the 20 non-pros, notably Tommaso Capogreco, Mario Contu, Lucio Sinisi and Gianfranco Zuncheddu. All the latter were filmed while serving sentences for serious crimes from drug trafficking to murder.
Cinematographer Paolo Ferrari skillfully uses HD mixed with occasional DV to create an enclosed, dream-like space in the courtroom. Sordid atmosphere is enhanced by Luca Servino’s humorously cheesy production design for the gang’s favorite hangouts.