'Without Pity' ('Senza Nessuna Pieta'): Venice Review

Senza Nessuna Piet
Courtesy of Biennale di Venezia
This ho-hum but watchable genre exercise isn't as smart as it thinks it is

Watchable Italian star Pierfrancesco Favino plays a stone mason who tries to help newcomer Greta Scarano's tart with a heart in this debut feature

A stone mason (Pierfrancesco Favino) who moonlights as a debt collector for the Mafia gets into trouble when he helps out a pretty prostitute (Greta Scarano) in Without Pity, an adequately made but cliché-ridden feature debut for actor-turned-director Michele Alhaique. Debuting in Venice’s Horizons strand, the film features solid performances and nicely evokes the unlovely suburban shabbiness of Rome’s outskirts. However, there’s not enough here to draw offshore distributors, although it would make a perfectly serviceable schedule-filler for cable stations.

Mimmo (Favino, who’s taken supporting roles in Rush and World War Z) is a big glowering bear of a man who mostly works on building sites and is well-liked as a stern but fair boss by his underlings. But when his mobster uncle Santili (Ninetto Davoli) needs some muscle to collect from debtors, Mimmo is partnered with motormouth hoodlum Il Roscio (Claudio Gioe) to break bones and bring home cash. Mimmo doesn’t like this wetwork, but it’s the family business. He likes taking orders from his cousin, Santili’s sleazy son Manuel (Adriano Giannini), even less, but he feels he has no choice when he’s assigned to meet and greet reputed prostitute Tanya (Scarano), who’s been hired to entertain at one of Manuel’s upcoming bunga bunga parties.

There’s a mix-up over which day the party is on, so Mimmo ends up having to put Tanya at his house overnight and generally keep an eye on her until she’s needed at Manuel’s. This gives them just enough time to form a tentative respect, maybe even an attraction, for one another after the obligatory argumentative introduction.

When Manuel starts up some sadistic sex play with Tanya before the party, Mimmo steps in to stop him with violent results, and Mimmo and Tanya go on the run. They take shelter at the seaside home of Mimmo’s Caribbean housekeeper, Pilar (Iris Peynado), a noble-immigrant character that’s almost as much of a stereotype as Tanya’s tough-but-secretly-fragile tart with a heart. Inevitably, Mimmo’s family and former associates come to hunt them down, but not before he and Tanya have a chance to fall in love, have sex and dream doomed dreams of building a life together somewhere else. Fat chance of that working out.

It’s all pretty much standard-issue noir stuff, which would be fine in a genre film without pretensions. But there’s a sense here that the filmmakers think they’re making something daringly original, which this film just isn’t. There’s also a nasty prurience in its attitudes toward prostitution and the exploitation of women. On the one hand, we’re meant to be horrified by Manuel’s raping her, but surely the camera doesn’t need to linger over her humiliation in a way that seems designed to excite as much as repel. Elsewhere, no opportunity is wasted to expose Scarano’s legs and breasts with Mariano Tufano’s skimpy costumes, even in the latter stages when she’s supposedly decided to put hooking behind her.

Nevertheless, Scarano, whose main previous credits have been in TV shows like the spinoff series of Romanzo Criminale, exudes a gutsy charisma, and there’s a nice, simmering chemistry between her and Favino, who radiates inherent goodness and solidity throughout like a cast-iron stove.

Ivan Casalgrandi’s widescreen lensing is fetching, and plays some game tricks with perspective in the home stretch. The other craft contributions are all solidly professional.

Production companies: A Lungta Films, PKO and Rai Cinema production
Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Greta Scarano, Claudio Gioe, Adriano Giannini, Renato Marchetti, Iris Peynado, Ninetto Davoli
Director: Michele Alhaique
Screenwriters: Andrea Garello, Emanuele Scaringi, Michele Alhaique
Producers: Alexandra Rossi, Maurizio Piazza, Pierfrancesco Favino
Director of photography: Ivan Casalgrandi
Production designer: Sonia Peng
Costume designer: Mariano Tufano
Editor: Tommaso Gallone
Composer: Luca Novelli, Pierre-Alexandre “Yuksek” Busson
Sales: Indie Sales Company

No rating, 97 minutes