Not Just Married to the Mob: Italy’s Crime Stories Open Up to Women

The mob in Italy, besides being an endemic plague, has always been grist for the film and TV mill, with gritty Naples-set show “Gomorrah,” the country’s top TV export, being one recent example.

But a major change is underway in how Italian producers and talents are tackling organized crime tropes that were once exclusively imbued in patriarchal pathos. Mob stories coming out of Italy are primarily a woman’s thing these days. Or, rather, the perspective is a female one.

Take Amazon’s recently launch­­ed Italian original “Bang Bang Baby,” the 1980s Milan-set tale of 16-year-old Alice Barone (rising star Arianna Becheroni), who while living with her single mom learns by chance that her dad, whom she thought dead, is very much alive and a boss of the Calabrian crime syndicate known as the ’Ndrangheta.

Against her mother’s wishes, she joins the dark side of her family, bonding with her paternal grandmother, the feisty Nonna Guendalina Barone, who is also an ’Ndrangheta boss. The criminal granny is played by Dora Romano, known to audiences outside Italy as the matriarch who eats mozzarella with her hands and spouts vulgarities in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God.”

“If any vile bastard gets in the way, I’ll dissolve him in acid, so help me God!,” Nonna Barone blurts out at one point.

The pulpy “Bang Bang” is produced by “The Young Pope” and “My Brilliant Friend” producer Lorenzo Mieli, who notes that, like “Gomorrah,” it’s loosely rooted in reality. What’s specific about the series, he says, is that we see the narrative from the point of view of the protagonist, Alice.

Mieli says he was also interested in this world “because it’s a matriarchy, not a patriarchy,” since it’s a known fact that women have a central role in the ’Ndrangheta.

The ’Ndrangheta is also the world of “Una Femmina — The Code of Silence,” a movie with more gravitas than “Bang Bang” that launched from Berlin earlier this year. The revenge drama centers on Rosa, a young rebel who as a child glimpsed her mother being murdered by her uncle Tore; she later learns from her grandmother that he had forced her mom to drink hydrochloric acid and die the death of a woman who has “talked too much.”

Rosa’s character, played by newcomer Lina Siciliano, distills the many voices in Italian journalist Lirio Abbate’s book “Fimmine Ribelli,” about women who’ve had the courage to rebel against the ’Ndrangheta and its codes.

The film’s director, Francesco Costabile, says that “Una Femmina” is “full of rage and humanity.” He calls it “a crime story told from a feminine point of view,” noting that “psychological grip, oppression and domestic extortion are the foundations underlying Rosa’s world.”

A desire to break away from the heavy burden of being born into an ’Ndrangheta family is also the central theme in “A Chiara,” the slice-of-life drama from Jonas Carpignano that won the Directors’ Fortnight award at Cannes in 2021 and was recently released by Neon in the U.S.

Carpignano, who lives in the coastal town of Gioia Tauro — which is known as an ’Ndrangheta hotbed — says he decided to tackle this theme after “seeing the effect it had on the community and the people who are close to it, without being in it.”

As his protagonist, Carpignano chose then-15-year-old Swamy Rotolo, a nonprofessional whom he has known since she was nine. The director was therefore able to insert “things from her real life into the script, so that the character becomes more like her. Even though obviously she’s not part of a Mafia family,” he notes.

In May, Rotolo, who is now 17, won the best actress statuette for “A Chiara” at Italy’s David di Donatello Awards, making her the youngest Italian to win the coveted prize in the event’s 67 editions.

It’s yet another sign that things are changing in Italy.

(Pictured: “Bang Bang Baby”)