A highlight of this year’s “Open Roads” series, Michele Placido’s Crime Novel is a two-and-a-half-hour epic about the political and civil turbulence in Italy from 1977 to 1992 as seen through the eyes of a gang of Roman mobsters. The Magliana gang are street punks who land in jail, emerge as hardened criminals, ally themselves with the Mafia, and assume control of the drug trade. Their lives are affected by political events—the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro in 1978, the 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station—and the disturbing murky ties between the Red Brigades, the Mafia, and the Italian secret service are integral to the picture. The first-rate locations combine drama and tourism—there’s a bloody murder on the Spanish Steps, a clandestine meeting in front of the Forum, a tryst in front of a Caravaggio in an old church.
Director Placido, best known as an actor, has appeared in over 40 pictures; this is his seventh film as director. The screenwriters include Stefano Rulli and Sandro Petraglia, who wrote The Best of Youth, and the fine ensemble acting features particularly memorable work by Kim Rossi Stuart as the smoothest of the gang and Anna Mouglalis as the elegant call girl, set up by the boys in her own luxury bordello.
Placido the actor can be seen in a lesser work at the Walter Reade, Michele Soavi’s
The Goodbye Kiss. He plays a shady cop in this story of an idealistic revolutionary who returns to Italy from exile and finds it impossible to lead a normal life. Soavi was a longtime assistant to horror master Dario Argento but seems to have absorbed little of Argento’s knack for suspenseful narration. With its supernatural overtones and cryptic messages on the walls of an ancient palazzo, Ferzan Ozpetek’s Sacred Heart has suspense to burn and is marked by the director’s trademark lush romantic mise-en-scéne. It’s a pretty tall tale—a ruthless businesswoman (the volatile Slovak actress Barbora Bobulova) becomes a Good Samaritan—but it looks smashing, in good part thanks to superb art direction by veteran Andrew Crisanti, who worked on all of Francesco Rosi’s major films.