DVD Review: The Octopus – Series One

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Forerunner to Gomorrah demonstrates that Italian Noir is harder edged and more pessimistic than its Scandinavian counterpart.

Italian TV’s first home-grown blockbuster, The Octopus premièred in 1984 and ran for ten seasons produced over seventeen years. Seen in over 100 countries, including the UK where Channel Four screened the first three series. Phenomenally successful in Soviet-era Russia where lead actor Michele Placido became a sex symbol.

Michele Placido is today best known to English-speaking audiences for directing the feature film Romanzo Criminale. As a young man he moved to Rome to study acting and enrol in a police academy. Making his performance début in a stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he trod the boards for two years before embarking on a successful screen career. By the time he signed on to play Commissario Corrado Cattani he was a well-regarded actor in his home country. Playing the lead in The Octopus raised his profile on the international arena. After a particularly tense episode, concerned viewers wrote to Pravda suggesting his character should be offered asylum.

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A watershed moment in Italian TV history. Breaking down barriers between cinema and television industries, The Octopus was the start of a movement which saw key figures from the film industry actively seeking out opportunities to work in television.

Acknowledged for making the public more conscious of the extent organised crime had infiltrated and tainted every aspect of society. Its title refers to the Mafia’s tentacles stretching out and holding public bodies, private sector industries, and media in a tight grip.

When a senior police officer is murdered in an apparent drive-by shooting Commissario Corrado Cattani is reassigned to a small Sicilian town. Tasked with bringing the local mafia boss to justice he soon learns that the entire community is tainted by corruption.

Brutally violent The Octopus is groundbreaking television. Stretching the boundaries of what could be shown on Italian TV, it’s left a lasting legacy. Without this series, Gomorrah and Romanzo Criminale would never have been produced.

The Octopus – Series One is available to order from Amazon.

For more information about Italian Noir check out Barry Forshaw’s Euro Noir

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Blu-ray Review: Gomorrah – The Complete Season One

Roberto Saviano’s best-selling exposé of the Neapolitan Mafia is brought to the small screen in an adaptation that takes on Breaking Bad and The Wire for the title of TV’s most brutal show and wins by several knockouts.

First published in 2006, Saviano’s account of a criminal syndicate blew the whistle on a whole raft of nefarious practices that the mob wanted to remain secret. Forced to flee after receiving death threats from the Mafia, he now lives in an undisclosed location.

A feature film adaptation was released in 2008. Critically acclaimed, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or and a Golden Globe and won the Grand Prix at Cannes. Streamlining the material to fit the movie’s running time, Saviano knew that he had enough stories left over for TV series.

Presented with the unique opportunity of translating this wealth of unused accounts of life within a criminal organization, the screenwriters took two years to craft final drafts of the scripts that were true to the source material and had the potential to create visually compelling and emotionally potent television. Cameras started rolling once the entire creative team realized they had successfully captured the spirit of Saviano’s book without compromising the integrity of his journalism.

Complex, gritty and intense, Gomorrah’s authenticity sets this series apart from any other gangster drama on television. Sourced from first hand observations of criminal practices and the internal machinations of a Mafia-style organisation, the show offers a unique window into life within the mob. All incidents on screen are based on real life occurrences but some dramatic licence has been applied to compress timelines or combine events.

Resolute in their commitment to accuracy, the director and producers were determined to shoot the series in and around the Naples suburb Scampia. Substituting a district nearer to any of the major Rome film studios may have lowered production costs but it would have been a betrayal of the audience’s trust, shattering any pretence of a commitment to conveying a sense of reality.

More than a dramatic backdrop, the crime ridden district is a core character in the series. A setting from which a life free of Mob influence is impossible. Socially and economically the area is dependent upon the proceeds of illegality. High unemployment, limited access to educational opportunities, availability of drugs, and a crumbling infrastructure has allowed the Camorra to flourish. Demonstrating the regional government’s ineptness in dealing with the tide of lawlessness, local policing did not attempt to establish a presence in the area until 1987 when the first police station was opened.

Gomorrah brings to life the rise and fall of a Camorra syndicate with the passion and magnitude of a Greek tragedy, albeit a particularly bloody one. The series zooms in on the intricacies of day-to-day life within the clan revealing it to be a never-ending succession of power struggles and betrayals. From foot soldier to Mob boss, each level of the hierarchy is captured with fly on the wall levels of realism.

Far removed from The Sopranos and Lilyhammer, compelling pages of undercover journalism have been distilled with great care into the best new series of 2014. Peeling away false glamour, the expansive narrative explodes Hollywood myths about the Mafia and delivers an authoritative account of Italy’s criminal underworld. A world where business deals may settled by a game of Russian Roulette, footsoldiers are dispatched on an errand never quite knowing if they are being sent to their death, and war may erupt with a neighbouring gang without warning.

Gomorrah – The Complete Season One can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gomorrah-Season-1-Blu-ray/dp/B00MBP1542/ref=sr_1_1_twi_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1415253649&sr=8-1&keywords=gomorrah+series

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gomorrah-The-Series-Season-DVD/dp/B00KILJXIQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415253649&sr=8-1&keywords=gomorrah+series

DVD Review: Inspector De Luca

Characterized by gritty realism, existential struggles, institutional corruption, political instability, salacious segments and heroes frequently crushed by overwhelming opposition or vanquished by the dark finger of fate, Mediterranean Noir may from a UK perspective be considered a relatively new genre. Distinct in tone and worldview, like its Nordic counterpart, the movement places society under a microscope and critiques its failings. Comprehensively surveyed in Barry Forshaw’s forthcoming book Euro Noir, British and Irish audiences are already familiar with the genre thanks to BBC Four’s screening of the TV version of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels. In literary terms, the authors Leonardo Sciascia and Jean-Claude Izzo have an enlarging English language readership. The vast panoply of authors and TV series currently gaining recognition by a new found fanbase is enlarged thanks to Arrow Films release of Inspector De Luca a series adapted from a trilogy by one of Italy’s best known contemporary crime writers, Carlo Lucarelli.

In the introduction to the Inspector De Luca novels, Lucarelli recounts an incident from his time as a doctoral student that inspired him to write the books and forsake his academic pursuits. Conducting background research for a thesis, he interviewed a former police officer with forty years active service who began his career in 1941 working for the fascist political police. Initially employed to monitor the activity of anti fascist groups before arrest, the political elite were so paranoid they subsequently engaged the services of this officer to conduct surveillance on pro fascist groups due to fears that they may be plotting to overthrow Benito Mussolini. Having conducted his duties throughout the early stages of the war without a blemish on his record he transferred into the partisan police immediately following the allies liberation of the country and served in that force for the remainder of the conflict. Following the cessation of hostilities fresh elections were held in Italy to form a new government, in this new regime the officer was tasked with monitoring and arresting his former colleagues because they were now regarded as dangerous subversives.

Coupling his personal fascination with the latter stages of Italy’s fascist regime and the testimony given during the interview with this former officer, Lucarelli considered how an individual could be so wedded to the concept of policing he would carry out instructions without question irrespective of the political implications or any sense of discontinuity at having to arrest individuals (sometimes former colleagues) for engaging in activities which were previously lawful. Spurred on by the fertile territory he had inadvertently stumbled upon Lucarelli abandoned his thesis and wrote the the Inspector De Luca trilogy; Carte Blanche, The Damned Season and Via delle Oche.

Produced in 2008, the TV adaptation adds a prologue episode set in 1938 to introduce De Luca, his point of view, working methods, relationship to superior officers and demonstrate how ordinary citizens were effected by the ever present struggle between fascism and the leftist groups who sought to topple the regime. Across ten years, in four episodes, De Luca’s pursuit of truth and justice across Bologna and the Adriatic coast frequently places him in trouble with whoever happens to be ruling at that moment. Steadfastly refusing to bend to suit the will of those seeking to quell an investigation, he dogmatically pursues a case despite incidents when it might be more prudent to take a less direct approach or to withdraw. First and foremost a police officer, De Luca is not a political realist or an apologist for any cause, for him the law is all that matters and he has a sworn duty to uphold it no matter what the personal cost may be.

The addition of an original introductory episode to complement the three adapted from Lucarelli’s novels creates a balance in terms of the series’ structure. Translating the novelist’s work to screen with due respect for the source material, the creative team have masterfully brought to life a well written trilogy with such insight and reverence it is impossible to detect a stylistic shift in the “new” prelude. The first two episodes are set during Mussolini’s reign and the subsequent instalments take place in a period when recriminations sat alongside reconstruction. Throughout one of the must tumultuous periods in modern European history the geographical, economic, social, and political turmoil is integral to communicating the series’ fictional milieux. The core theme of justice needing to be maintained in difficult times ensures that despite being a period drama, the series’ central message resonates.

In the newly written opener, An Unauthorized Investigation, the body of a sex worker is found washed up on the beach close to Mussolini’s summer home. Fearful of the consequences should the leader’s holiday be disturbed, the authorities demand that the case be solved swiftly. De Luca’s methods clash with his superiors when he starts investigating some of Mussolini’s acquaintances.

The second episode, based on the first book, Carte Blance, sees De Luca fall under the watchful eye of the fascist elite when he is placed in charge of trying to apprehend the murderer of a wealthy bachelor. At this stage in the war the Italian government was co-operating with Nazis and the palpable paranoia felt throughout this edition is accentuated as it becomes apparent that allied forces may storm the area at at any moment.

A dramatic change in tone throughout The Damned Season and its follow-up Via Della Oche demonstrates De Luca’s descent from trusted public official to despised collaborationist who must pose as a partisan. Unable to stand down from his duty, De Luca’s stubborn refusal to bend with the wind and seek an alternate lifestyle is no longer a virtue.

A turbulent era is brought to life with brio in a series blessed with intricately researched historical detail, sympathetic cinematography, and scripts that elevate the admittedly excellent source material to the level of near greatness. Recommended.

Inspector De Luca can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Inspector-Luca-DVD-Alessandro-Preziosi/dp/B00IYMZIJY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397463000&sr=8-1&keywords=inspector+de+luca

Euro Noir by Barry Forshaw is available from Amazon and all major book retailers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Noir-Essential-European-Essentials/dp/1843442450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397463121&sr=8-1&keywords=euro+noir