Burning Hearts – From Venice to London 2023

David Cunningham

Writers: Pippo Mezzapesa, Antonella Gaeta and Davide Serino (from ‘Ti mangio il cuore’ by Carlo Bonini and Giuliano Foschini)

Director: Pippo Mezzapesa

The closing credits of Burning Hearts reveal the film is based upon the true-life story of a Mafia informant. However, rather than focus on the informant, director Pippo Mezzapesa (who wrote the film with Antonella Gaeta and Davide Serino) constructs an epic family drama in the manner of The Godfather while trying hard to avoid the conventions of the gangster/noir genre.

In Apulia Puglia, a rural part of Italy, an uneasy truce between three rival gangs has been brought about by the head of the Malatesta family filling the cemetery with his enemies. However, violence becomes inevitable when Malatesta’s son Andrea (Francesco Patanè) falls in love with Marilena (Elodie), wife of the head of the rival Camporeale clan.

Burning Hearts is filmed in stunning black and white by Michele D’Attanasio. However, director Mezzapesa does not use this for a simple noir atmosphere. The arid Salt Flats where the initial tryst between the lovers occurs looks so barren as to resemble an alien planet. The parades of black-clad women in full mourning veils, which bookend events in the film, bring a touch of operatic grandeur.

The film is set in a rural rather than an urban community which removes the glamour often associated with the gangster genre. Marilena with her manicured fingernails is a sharp contrast with Andrea’s sister whose nails are dirty and broken by farm labour. Austerity is apparent in the way the way the gangs operate; the Camporeale family are offered not just money but also cows as compensation for the offence caused by Andrea and a gang member is vulnerable to ambush because the family has only a limited number of vehicles.

The influence of the gangs, and their impact upon, their community seems limited. A show is made of bidding to finance a church parade and innocent bystanders are killed after witnessing an ambush but overall, the gangs seem to be operating in an isolated bubble – the police or authorities never intrude.

Burning Hearts shows a Shakespearian influence but not, surprisingly, Romeo and Juliet¸ Far from a starry-eyed teenager Elodie’s Marilena is not just a mother of two children she is a hard-faced gangster’s moll capable of scandalising her community by taking part in a church parade in high heels and a low-cut dress. Like Shakespeare’s Cressida Marilena is not welcome in her lover’s clan but is unable to return to her old family. Marilena’s outsider status provides a motivation for turning informant but the mechanics- contacting the authorities- are left vague.

While Michael Corleone’s fall from grace is reflected in a chilling emotional detachment, Francesco Patanè’s Andrea slides into full hollow-eyed paranoia. Like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus he is pushed into action by a manipulative mother (with whom, in one uncomfortable scene, he shares a bed) and like Macbeth must acknowledge the futility of his efforts.

Efforts to avoid genre clichés, however, results in a movie which takes some time to get going while the conclusion, which suddenly jumps to a quick explanation of what happened to Elodie, seems rushed. The build-up to the outbreak of gang warfare takes a long time and the movie is surprisingly coy about the depiction of violence, most of which occurs off-screen. More significantly, while the conclusion allows a satisfying twist it leaves some plot threads unresolved. The fate of pivotal characters such as the mole in the Camporeale Family who helps Elodie’s children escape and of Andrea’s mother is never revealed.

Burning Hearts avoids the stale conventions of the gangster genre but a slow pace together with a rushed conclusion results in a movie which smoulders rather than burns.

From Venice to London 2023 runs from 3-5 February at Curzon Soho.

The Reviews Hub Score

Slow burning

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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