ITALIAN film director Vincenzo Marra (Bridges of Sarajevo and The First Light) spends half of every year living outside of Europe. South America is his preferred continent.
‘In Europe, we’re paralysed with fear,’ he told the audience who had just watched the British premiere of his latest film – L’Equilibrio (Equilibrium) – at the Curzon Mayfair as part of the BFI London Film Festival.
‘We live in fear of death and disease. We live in fear of terrorism. We live in fear of the small things.’
Judging by the ferocity of L’Equilibrio, it is a surprise that this talented (and brave) film director is allowed back into Italy at all, especially Naples – his city of birth. Standing in his shoes, I would fear for my life.
For this sublime film is not afraid to pull its punches, aiming right and left hooks at the cosy relationship that exists between Italy’s church, the police and drug overlords (the mafia). A triumvirate of organisations that allow corruption to thrive and a status quo to exist that punishes the many for the benefit of the few.
‘The film has been screened in Vatican City,’ he said. ‘Italian critics welcomed it – although my mother did say that if I went to the screening at Vatican City I might not be let out.’
‘It presents the truth. The film belongs to you. If it stays with you, it’s fine.’
L’Equilibrio is allegorical with Don Giuseppe, a priest, at its heart. His journey is meant to represent the steps of Christ’s journey as he takes on the Camorra crime clan in Naples.
Along the way, he frees a goat from the church play yard that has been left there by the Camorra, forcing the local children to play elsewhere (’a goat that has been taken from the flock’ according to Marra).
He comforts Maria Caputo in hospital where she is dying of terminal cancer – a product of the city’s mountain of toxic waste that has spawned an epidemic of lung and colon cancers. He does not cure her but he manages to persuade son Saverio (part of the Camorra) to visit before her inevitable death.
He visits a wasteland where Camorra thugs (Saverio included) control a group of drug addicts (‘the lepers of today’s society’) and he endures a mock hanging (presumably meant to represent Christ’s crucifixion) just before the film’s ending.
Giuseppe, sensitively played by Mimmo Borrelli, is upright, tall and handsome. He is also of independent spirit, having spent time working as a missionary in Africa.
He is also not without his fault lines as we witness at the beginning of the film. Working with migrants in Rome, we see him confronted by a female work colleague (Veronica). It is obvious there is sexual chemistry but Giuseppe resists temptation.
Instead he asks for a transfer to Naples, his home town. So begins his clash with the Camorra and the indifference shown by both the police and his predecessor (Father Don Antonio) to his callings for justice to prevail in the local community. An indifference that he fights against, especially over a case involving a child who is a victim of molestation at the hands of the Camorra.
‘Giuseppe is a character who is not paralysed by fear,’ said Marra. Absolutely. L’Equilibrio is a bracing film. There are some poignant moments – including when he comes out of the shower and decides whether to wear his crucifix or not. And all along you want him to win. One individual against mountainous corrupt forces.
The fact that most of the cast had never acted before adds to the film’s veracity. Powerful. Absorbing. Brave. A mix of fiction and facts. Faction. A morality play posing as a film. Must see cinema. Bravo Vincenzo Marra.
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Director: Vincenzo Marra
Don Giuseppe: Mimmo Borrelli
Don Antonio: Roberto Del Gaudio
Veronica: Astrid Meloni