'Boys Cry' ('La terra dell'abbastanza'): Film Review | Berlin 2018

Boys Cry Still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of the Berlin International Film Festival
A knockout.

Italian twins Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo wrote and directed this first feature, which stars Andrea Carpenzano and Matteo Olivetti as best friends who get drawn into the Roman underworld.

Gomorrah comes to the Roman outskirts with a twist in the muscular Italian debut feature Boys Cry (La terra dell’abbastanza), from self-taught filmmaking twins Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo. After two best buddies without much hope for a future accidentally kill a pedestrian with their car, they end up becoming lowly hirelings for a local criminal clan. What sets this story of two smartass kids in the criminal underworld apart from many of its brethren is the brothers’ keen perception of the psychological and moral issues that inform the duo’s behavior, as they try to tame the pain of their unfortunate incident by turning what threatens to destroy them — namely, a killing — into the very thing that dominates their lives.

With the mixed-bag quality of this year’s Berlinale competition, it's hard not to wonder why this was placed in the Panorama section rather than the festival’s main talent showcase. Further festival exposure is practically guaranteed and sales should also be solid for this well-turned and smarter-than-average genre item that looks like a million bucks.

Manolo (Andrea Carpenzano) — short, jet-black curls and a big golden earring — has been best friends with Mirko (Matteo Olivetti) — buzz cut and two smaller golden earrings — since childhood. They are now both studying to work in the restaurant business, though they’re not yet sure what exactly they want to do. Should they become “barmen like all the Albanians and Romanians"? Both are raised by working-class single parents: Manolo’s dad (Max Tortora, a comic actor here effectively cast against type) is practically the mirror image of Mirko’s mom (actress and dancer Milena Mancini), barely scraping by and no doubt wondering what the precarious-seeming future holds for their offspring.

When the boys run over a pedestrian at night, they keep driving and end up at Manolo’s house, where his father is horrified but also immediately shows his true colors, as he underlines that Mirko was at the wheel, not Manolo. But when, a couple of days later, he finds out the person they accidentally killed was already a marked man for a local gang, he sees an opportunity for Manolo — but not Mirko — to get some respect and possibly even wealth from the fatal accident.

The screenplay was written by both siblings — credited as the “D’Innocenzo Brothers” — and is a marvel of economy, emotional insight and dramatic irony. On the surface, this is a quite typical rise-and-fall story of two innocent and quite clueless youngsters who dream of sex, money and guns and think all three are within reach as soon as they become part of a criminal organization. But just underneath the surface, Boys Cry reveals itself to be a study in shifting allegiances and contrasts, as Manolo’s father forces his son to deny Mirko the supposed privilege of this bright new future; Mirko takes to the work much easier than Manolo — he gets a kick out of becoming the supplier of the cartel’s street prostitutes, driving around delivering condoms, bottled water and lip gloss — and the boys’ trust and reliance on one another is tested more than once as their jobs become bigger and more fraught with danger.

What makes the film so fascinating to watch is that the psychology of the boys keeps bubbling to the surface organically, making it easy for audiences to understand the thought processes behind their (frequently not advisable) actions. And, of course, there’s the irony that to digest the fact they killed an innocent man, they turn to killing more men — except now they are not always that innocent.

The D’Innocenzos display a fine grasp of cinematic language, frequently opting for what could be considered counterintuitive shots that heighten the scenes' visceral impact. A nighttime killing in a rural area, for example, is seen from a high-angle exterior shot, with Manolo going into one of the barracks and only the flash from his gun, visible in the dark, making it clear he fired. Veteran cutter Marco Spoletini — who also edited Gomorrah — only then cuts to an interior shot, where we see blood on the floor next to the target's body. By shooting and cutting the scene this way, the violence is not gratuitous but actually quite the opposite: dispassionate and disembodied. This in turn suggests how the two young men pull of their difficult task; by leaving their true selves outside while they go in and do what they have to do.

The confidence of the directors also extends to the way in which they play with references to other works of the genre, including not only Gomorrah but also works like the Godfather trilogy, evoked in a large dinner scene where they are eyed up by boss Angelo (Luca Zingaretti), the type of benevolent family man who, in front of a woman breastfeeding, calmly replies when asked if a man should be killed, “It would be the most reasonable thing to do.”

Carpenzano, from the Ravenna area, and Olivetti, actually born and partially raised in Britain, are totally convincing as two down-and-out bros from the derelict Roman suburbs. Like many fast friends, they are different in complementary ways while at their cores they think very much alike. As their parents, Tortora and Mancini suggest lifetimes of hardscrabble existence in just a few scenes; the latter is especially impressive in one of the film’s most visually striking sequences, a rooftop birthday party for Mirko’s younger half-sister to which he has not been invited but can’t help but show up with about half an Apple Store worth of presents. 

Poisonous yellows and sickly greens dominate much of the saturated nighttime photography, while Toni Bruna’s jazzy, almost lazily paced score offers an unexpected counterpoint to the duo’s quick slide into a position from which no return might be possible.

Production companies: Pepito Produzioni, Rai Cinema
Cast: Andrea Carpenzano, Matteo Olivetti, Milena Mancini, Max Tortora, Luca Zingaretti
Writer-Directors: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo
Producers: Agustino Giuseppe, Maria Grazia Sacca
Executive producers: Ivan D’Ambrosio
Director of photography:  Paolo Carnera
Production designer: Paolo Bonfini
Costume designer: Massimo Cantini Parrini
Editor: Marco Spoletini
Music: Toni Bruna
Casting: Gabriella Gianattasio, Davide Zurolo
Sales: The Match Factory
Venue: Berlin (Panorama)

In Italian
No rating, 96 minutes