Eternal Rome in the Mobster Show ‘Suburra: Blood on Rome’
In many ways Netflix’s recent hit Italian-language series Suburra (2017-2020) is a standard story about gangsters and mobsters, a story told in countless films and television series since the emergence of the gangster film genre in 1920s America. Suburra, inspired by a real scandal, revolves around a project to sell a piece of land in Ostia, a seaside district of Rome, and to build a port there. Rival gangs, as well as the Sicilian mafia, are fighting to participate in the construction of the port, which they plan to turn into a drug trafficking hub.
The series focuses on Aureliano Adami (Alessandro Borghi) and Alberto ‘Spadino’ Anacleti (Alberto ‘Spadino’ Anacleti), the younger sons of two rival gang families, who feel they are not playing their due role in the family business. Going against their respective gangs, the two join forces and confront Samurai Francesco Acquaroli), the leader of organized crime in Rome, and attempt to gain port for themselves. The new port isn’t just appealing to drug traffickers and underdogs like Aureliano and Spadino. Samurai has politicians in the town hall of Rome and even cardinals in his pay – the land in Ostia is sold by the Vatican.
What sets Suburra apart from comparable “Italian Mob” series and films, it is its magnificent location: Rome, the mythical capital of the Roman Empire, which has never lost any of its ancient prestige and grandeur. By contrast, most gangster or mafia films are set in troubled neighborhoods of Sicily or Naples, locations south of Rome notorious for Mafia and Camorra activity, or in sleazy neighborhoods from New York or Chicago, metropolises with a history of organized crime. .
We might expect Suburra similarly limiting its territory to crime-infested suburbs away from the towering ruins of ancient Rome. Instead, while the series is centrally concerned with how organized crime infiltrates the highest levels of politics, its locations oscillate between the suburbs of Ostia and the historic vistas of central Rome and the Vatican. These recognizable landmarks, such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica, don’t just work as a scenic backdrop. Rather, they extend Suburra’s deeply cynical view of power and status into the past. From its title, which references a notorious neighborhood in ancient Rome, to its evocative use of symbolically charged Roman cityscapes and monuments, Suburra presents gang warfare, corruption and the abuse of power not as anomalies. modern, but as secular characteristics of political novel.
With this critical eye, Suburra follows the long tradition of gangster movies and shows, which, while primarily fast-paced thrillers, are also seen as deeply concerned with “serious” issues. The gangster genre emerged in 1920s America as a reflection of current events, namely Prohibition and the resulting boom in criminal activity, resulting in intense media coverage of gangsters and public fascination. for them. The films responded to this fascination, building gripping tales of gunfights and car chases while restoring law and order through the death of the antisocial gangster at the end.
While this simplistic outline of gangster film suggests the genre is highly moralistic and conservative, the full picture is more complicated. The gangster is the film’s protagonist – a violent, misogynistic, anarchic character, but nonetheless a protagonist of a certain charisma with which the audience is invited to sympathize. This glorification of the (anti)hero in the classic gangster film has led some critics to argue that political and social subversion is integral to the genre.
According to these analyses, the gangster is a criminal who breaks the law, but at the same time he embodies the ruthless struggle for success in an individualistic world, taking capitalist ideology to its logical and brutal conclusion. American audiences who live in the same societal context can relate to the mobster’s aspirations and struggles and are thrilled with his criminal success. His fall at the end thus represents not only the triumph of law and order, but also the elusiveness of material success and its dubious value. While the mysterious, underground gangster figure seems to have earned respect and power for himself within his limited realm, he is ultimately a pathetic destitute trying to make a living in a cruel world.
Most analysis focuses on the classic image of early 20th century gangsters, but movies continue to follow this pattern – Martin Scorsese Freedmen (1990) is, in the words of Karen Hills’ character, “just to do a little more”. The classic gangster film then depicts the “buried underside” of American society, the urban nightmare instead of the American dream. It is a genre very concerned with poverty, lack of opportunity, crime and the social disintegration that results from it.
This conception of the gangster as a “problem” implies that there is the possibility of a more honorable life and a fairer system that does not produce widespread societal problems. Such hope is completely absent from Francis Ford Coppola’s masterful reimagining of the gangster genre in the Godfather trilogy. the Godfather is not interested in future gangsters. Instead, he explores the highest levels of American society and discovers that they operate like a gangster. the Godfather exposes order and justice as a thin facade and portrays people who believe in accountability, transparency and the rule of law as hopelessly naive:
Michael (Al Pacino): My father is no different from other powerful men. Any man who is responsible for other people. Like a senator or a president.
Kay (Diane Keaton): Do you know how naive you sound? Senators and presidents don’t kill men.
Michael: Who’s naive, Kay?
The Corleone family is no anomaly in the Godfather universe. The trilogy presents a deeply cynical view of American society where values and ideals are mere slogans that mask reality – the raw struggle for power at the top. It is not society that is malfunctioning, but society as it is. Michael and his clan are not criminal outsiders, they are people at the very heart of American political life who can make the system work for their own benefit.
Notably, the police or persecution by law is never a major plot element in the Godfather – whenever incidents like this happen, it’s only a matter of time before the Corleone family pulls the right strings and gets away with it. The Corleone saga is not interested in drawing attention to the “buried underside” of society, but rather in depicting the Machiavellian motivations that shape the highest realms of public life – the hand from above that guides and controls the movements of his puppets, as seen in the Godfather logo.