The Triplet: Venice Review

Il Gemello
No-nonsense little documentary provides effective glimpses of penitentiary life, Italian-style.

Naples director Vincenzo Marra's latest home-town documentary is an intimate and engaging character-study of a charismatic Neapolitan inmate.

VENICE -- Finding room to manoeuvre within the claustrophobic confines of the prison-documentary sub-genre, skilled Italian director Vincenzo Marra delivers an intimate and engaging character-study of a charismatic Neapolitan inmate in The Triplet (Il Gemello). A solid choice for non-fiction festivals, especially those with an interest in penal and/or human-rights themes, this no-nonsense fly on the (cell) wall affair could be profitably trimmed down for small-screen exposure overseas as well as at home, but even at feature length manages to retain sufficient interest.

Marra's last two fiction outings, 2004's Land Wind and 2007's Rush Hour, both widely traveled on the festival circuit, confirmed the 40-year-old among the more talented and promising of his nation's younger writer-directors. But he's always had at least one foot in the documentary camp, The Triplet being his fourth dispatch in a dozen years from various corners of his home city Naples. And while we see very little here outside the gray, blockily functional confines of Secondiglaino penitentiary, plenty of local flavor is imparted via the thick Neapolitan dialect spoken by prisoners and guards alike, often 'translated' here via Italian subtitles.

And the "triplet" himself, 29-year-old Raffaele Costagliola, certainly has plenty to say for himself. Articulate, plain-speaking and analytical, Raffaele's intelligence and self-possession have evidently earned him a position of considerable respect and status within the jail. His long criminal career dates back to teenage years that included a stint in reform school and a stab at armed robbery. And with more than half a decade still left to serve, Raffaele has found a way to cope with the routines of jail-cell life, including a fastidious attention to cleanliness that bemuses some of his more slovenly 'colleagues' behind bars.

The Triplet isn't a dramatic or polemical picture of prison, with the only notable frictions emerging when Raffaele tires of one cellmate, lifer Gennaro, and moves in with a pal further along his corridor. Viewers familiar with violent fictional representations of European incarceration such as Jacques Audiard's A Prophet or Danish variation R will find the Italian version relatively harmonious and even jolly, though here the proximity of Marra's self-operated cameras will undoubtedly have resulted in best-behavior approaches from all under Secondiglia's roof.

With mixed results, Marra occasionally shifts the focus away from Costagliola towards one of the more senior guards, identified in the closing credits as Domenico Manzi, with whom 'il gemello' enjoys a fraternal, conversational relationship. The aim was perhaps to ensure that the picture wasn't entirely dominated by the force of one man's personality, but there's never much sense that Costagliola is being unduly glamorized or lionized.

Rather, The Triplet functions professionally within its own fairly limited ambitions, breaking no new ground in terms of form or content but succeeding in introducing us to an intriguing individual and his unusual environment. On the latter front Daniele Maraniello's sound-design is a key technical aspect, the harsh clanging echoes produced by the prison's inescapable metalwork, and its stark walls and flooring, providing insistents reminder that, for all the inmates' elaborate efforts at domesticity, this really is no place like home.    

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Venice Days)
Production company: Axelotil Film, Settembrini Film
Director / Screenwriter: Vincenzo Marra
Producers: Gianluca Arcopinto, Marco Ledda, Vincenzo Marra, Angelo Russo Russelli
Director of photography: Francesco Amitrano
Editor: Luca Benedetti
Sales agent: RAI Trade, Rome
No MPAA rating, 94 minutes.