The Immortal (L’immortale)
Italy (2019) Dir. Marco D’Amore
There is a great sketch on the infamous Derek & Clive: Ad Nauseam album about people not putting labels on everyday things leading to mass confusion. I was lured into watching this film by it being a spin-off from Gomorrah, a noted Italian crime film from 2008, loosely based on the novel by Roberto Saviano; unfortunately, the Gomorrah in question is a TV series I have never seen!
Occurring apparently between seasons three and four, the film opens with Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore) being shot by a large gangster and falling into a river. Living up to his nickname “The Immortal”, Ciro survives from the bullet missing his heart by one inch. Crime boss Don Aniello Pastore (Nello Mascia) offers Ciro a lifeline by sending him to Latvia to work alongside his Russian allies.
Arriving in Latvia, Ciro meets with the Russian boss Yuri (Aleksei Guskov) but on his way back is intercepted by a Latvian group who force him to make a choice between the two sides. Unsure of what to do, Ciro reconnects with his former mentor, Bruno (Salvatore D’Onofrio), and with his help tries to control the drug trafficking in Riga for himself. This leads to a violent gang testing Ciro’s luck as “The Immortal” one more time.
Have you ever wandered into the middle of a conversation and it is too late for someone to get you up to speed on what you have missed so you carry on and just hope you can pick up the its by the end of it? This is what watching The Immortal was like for me. Had I paid a bit more attention to the blurb and saw which Gomorrah was being referred to, I might have saved myself 111-minutes and watched something else.
In all fairness, it’s been a decade since I saw the Gomorrah film so even if this was an adjunct to that, I still would have been none the wiser, but chances are it would have had a standalone story that required less knowledge of its parent source. Even driven by a prequel/sequel story, The Immortal works on the assumption audiences will know the characters and the fundamental beats of the main story.
Fortunately, half the film serves as look back at Ciro’s childhood as a street orphan living with younger Bruno (Giovanni Vastarella) and his sister Stella (Martina Attanasio), a club singer 10 year-old Ciro (Giuseppe Aiello) develops a huge crush on. Bruno is presented as a Fagin type character with a whole gang of kids under their teens who act as his criminal gang, whether playing the decoy or actively involved robberies, with Ciro as Bruno’s apparent favourite.
Similar to another Italian film The Ciambra, revolving around a criminal family with a heavy child cast, a rather disturbing picture is painted of kids growing up in such environments, smoking and drinking at a stupidly early age, being foul mouthed and disrespectful with no sense of right or wrong – except the askew version indoctrinated into them by the irresponsible and pernicious adults who are hardly being suitable role models, ruining their lives before they’ve even begun.
Back to the present day, and Ciro is the one in control with the roles reversed between him and Bruno but with noticeably less affection shown by Ciro. The flashbacks explain why; I imagine for viewers of the TV series, this exposition provides hitherto insight about Ciro and what made him the person he is. His nickname is no fluke, illustrated by the “life flashing before his eyes” montage at the beginning of the film, being the sole survivor of a building collapsed by an earthquake when he was just one month old.
Now torn between the Russians and the Latvians and with his growing distrust of Bruno also occupying his mind, Ciro spends most of the film as a scowling ball of rage ready to explode – except he is too stoic to go postal. Even when he does eventually lays his cards on the table, he does so without raising his voice, and any violence meted out is succinct, precise, and delivered without any sign of compunction or emotion.
European criminals do tend to have a coldness about them, which may explain how they are able to rise to the top and sustain their position whilst being unconcerned about the many enemies they made getting there, and will make in the future. If Ciro is like this in the TV series then those around him must be either scared of him or truly hate him, based on the opening scene and the need to get him out of Italy.
Juggling three roles – writer, director, and actor – Marco D’Amore doesn’t come across on screen as a man under pressure which may explain how he is able to maintain Ciro’s impassive demeanour and cool-headed approach to his villainy. For a first time director, D’Amore shows tremendous understanding of pacing, timing, shot composition, and how to coax amazing performances from his younger cast, who stand out more than most of the adults.
The presentation is very slick, perhaps too slick for such a gritty story, but not having not seen the TV series I can’t say if this is due to a budgetary upgrade for a theatrical release or simply following suit with what the fans are used to. I’m inclined to think it is the former judging by the visual scope of some of the scenes – like a nighttime speedboat chase – or how the vistas of Italy and Latvia are photographed.
Watching a film lifted from an extant oeuvre leaves uninitiated viewers like myself with more questions than answers but The Immortal isn’t aimed at us. Hopefully fans of the TV show understand Ciro better, proving the prequel/sequel experiment successful; that said, even coming into this with zero prior knowledge there is a nifty crime thriller that is actually easier to get into than it sounds.