Director Francesco Costabile tells a tale of a rebellious girl raised in a crime family – here’s our review of Una Femmina – The Code Of Silence.
One would imagine that growing up as part of a crime family is a nerve-shredding experience. Even those indirectly involved would spend their days treading on egg shells, pretending not to know anything and doing as they’re told.
In his narrative feature debut, director Francesco Costabile captures this feeling perfectly in a film fraught with tension. Rosa (Lina Siciliano) grows up with her uncle and grandmother in a remote part of Italy after her mother dies under suspicious circumstances. Her death casts a long shadow over Rosa’s present-day life, as she begins to suspect that her own family was involved. Getting revenge isn’t easy when your family are part of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, though…
In terms of the gangster genre at large, we’re very used to seeing women as the gangster’s moll. They’re figures who are aware of the shady dealings of their partners, but enjoy the luxuries it brings them without having to actively participate.
Una Femmina inverts this in a couple of ways. First off, there is no lavish lifestyle to be lived in the rural, mountainous region of Calabria. The legitimate part of Rosa’s family’s business is running a farm near a run-down town.
This just serves to make Rosa’s uncle Salvatore (Fabrizio Ferracane) all the more frightening. He already plays him as a volatile person with an unpredictable temper. At one point Rosa’s beaten just for refusing to fetch him some bread. And yet, there’s an inherent scariness in knowing that he doesn’t live his lifestyle out of greed – it’s just who he is. Ferracane has a commanding presence on screen, making the tense silence that falls over a room when Salvatore enters all the more believable.
But it’s not just the men who get to play active parts in this crime family. Rosa’s grandmother (Anna Maria De Luca) is highly influential (and a bit scary), and the act of Rosa herself investigating her family and taking matters into her own hands is a welcome change to the way we’re used to gangster films playing out.
What’s most effective about Una Femmina is its slowly growing sense of threat. When we meet Rosa as an adult, she seems almost unaware of what’s really going on around her. She spends her time running small (legal) errands, and family dinners seems more-or-less normal.
As her suspicion grows, so does the suspense. Her interactions with her relatives become strained, and it’s conveyed very well – without the need for explanation – how serious the consequences are for even a minor misstep. If you get beaten up for telling someone to get their own bread, it’s fairly obvious what they’ll do for something that actually matters.
Lina Siciliano masterfully portrays the mixed emotions Rosa experiences in her quest for revenge. The character is quiet; she remarks early on that she speaks when it’s necessary. But you can tell a lot from the actor’s expressions. Whether Rosa is stoney-faced and determined or quivering with fear, it’s evident without her having to utter a word. It’s a powerful leading performance that leaves us fearful for Rosa’s safety and wishing for her to escape her family.
The majority of Una Femmina builds towards Rosa finding out what happened to her mother, and her resulting actions. This comes late in the plot, when the tension has built to nail-biting heights, but that only amplifies how satisfying it is. Rosa’s story isn’t over immediately, though.
Costabile’s crime thriller leaves us with an ending that’s unexpected, perhaps not entirely satisfying, but certainly hopeful. What remains with you after watching is the incredible bravery of Rosa in the face of the danger she puts herself in to rebel against a powerful crime syndicate. The director based this tale on the stories of real women who did the same, which makes his narrative feature even more inspiring.
Una Femmina – The Code Of Silence screened at the Raindance Film Festival.
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