Michele Placido, director of Angels of Evil (2010), is one of Italy’s most well known directors. An acclaimed actor first of all (particularly well remembered is his performance in successful Italian miniseries La Piovra, which vividly depicted the fight against organised crime and mafia), Placido has been nurturing his talent for directing for some time now, involving himself with brave productions and proving on more than one occasion that he’s not afraid to represent the truth as it is.
This is the case with Angels of Evil, his latest work as a director, which did not fail to cause controversy amongst Italian audiences. The film is essentially a biopic of Renato Vallanzasca, who, due to both his fearless involvement with crime and the response he received from the public (as shocking as it may sound, he was very popular with women and even had admirers sending him marriage proposals while in prison) can be considered as probably the most infamous Italian criminal – most likely –of all time.
A powerful mobster in the 1970s, Vallanzasca started his criminal career at a very early age and grew to become the head of a ferocious gangster group that terrorised most of Northern Italy with robberies, kidnappings, murders and various acts of violence. After being arrested and managing to escape more than once, he finally gave up his law breaking existence in the late 1990s and is now serving a record four life sentences and an additional 260 years in prison.
Over his years as a criminal and fugitive, he’s managed to build a celebrity status for himself à la John Dillinger; well known all over Italy and talked about on tv, newspapers and magazines.Vallanzasca gained a place in Italian popular culture, and became controversially famous as the fearless good looking criminal with a life completely out of the ordinary.
And representing this life is exactly what got Michele Placido in hot waters. Critics touted the movie as, in effect, a glorification of the name and life of a criminal and accused the director of depicting him as a hero rather than as a villain. But, just like the production notes read, “there is more than one truth”, and Angels of Evil “doesn’t condemn, and doesn’t absolve”. Indeed, the film does represent Vallanzasca’s life through the eye of a non judgemental witness, free to think and reflect on how, in Placido’s words, “your typical next-door boy [can] choose to become an angel of evil.”
Lead actor, Kim Rossi Stuart, plays Vallanzasca with precision – down to his mannerisms and accent – and with genuine passion and raw energy, completely morphs into him, making you forget you are watching an actor and not the real person on screen. He inhabits the character, portraying him as a cruel, scarily violent, yet invariably human and broken individual who’s chosen the wrong road and the worst way to express his strength and pain.
Emotional, intense and truly shocking at times, the movie presents the known facts on a golden plate for the audience to make up their own mind. It’s violent, raw, vibrating with tension and punctuated with clever irony, to remind the audience that really, what Vallanzasca had become was not as much due to his choices, as to the attention and the exaltation he received from the people – and with that, Michele Placido had really nothing to do.
Angels of Evil is released on Blu-ray and DVD on 24 October, 2011 from Artificial Eye.