First screened here during the 2016 NZ International Film Festival, Saburra is a heady concoction of vice, corruption, greed, and bloodshed. Italian director Stefan Sollima lays the sleaze on thick to paint a grimy, synth-infused tale of escalating mob violence on the streets of modern day Rome.
The story follows a business proposition to turn the derelict docklands of the Eternal City into a playground for the rich à la Monaco. A tangled web of fragile alliances and ceasefires has been forged to see the deal through. With an unfathomable amount of money on the line, the cast of characters pervades all of Italian society; politicians, pimps, Mafioso’s, The Vatican. A shadowy underworld figure, known as ‘Samurai’, is tasked with holding the whole thing together through to completion, but with egos and insatiable greed aplenty, he’s got his work cut out.
Relative innocents are pulled into the fray of Sollima’s dog-eat-dog world, in which if you’re not a predator, you’re the prey. A son who inherits his father’s debt, a high-end escort who witnesses what she wasn’t supposed to, and the helplessly in love girlfriend of an aspiring gangster provide the audience with outlets for empathy. Saburra depicts an interwoven tapestry of relationships, dependency, trust, and betrayal. The film toys cleverly with each characters place in the story. Power dynamics can flip in a moment in a world where gun blasts talk loudest.
The ensemble cast, largely unfamiliar to Anglo-orientated audiences, each deliver rock solid performances. It is a common failure of the crime genre that the stories end up littered with caricatures rather than characters, but not so in Saburra.
Amid a mounting pile of bodies, the film hurtles towards its end with a pace and flow that has not let up from the opening scenes. While the sheer magnitude of graphic violence is bound to scare some off, those with firmer stomachs will be rewarded with a crime thriller of genuine artistic ambition.