'The Vice of Hope' ('Il vizio della Speranza'): Film Review | TIFF 2018

Courtesy of TIFF
Above-average Italian social drama.

A tough girl involved in child trafficking outside Naples discovers she’s pregnant in Edoardo De Angelis’ follow-up to 'Indivisible.'

Another gritty tale from the Camorra-infested Neapolitan hinterlands, The Vice of Hope (Il vizio della Speranza) follows on the heels of Edoardo De Angelis’ acclaimed Indivisible, the story of exploited conjoined twins. If the bleak setting is familiar enough, here there is no hint of camaraderie or joie de vivre, no back-and-forth banter, no kitschy costumes and music to liven up the abject poverty that surrounds the young Maria, pregnant with a fatherless child. It’s a more conventional film in many ways; more realistic perhaps, despite its blatant stabs at symbolism. But without the imaginative fantasy of its predecessor, it looks rather undistinguished and is likely to be absorbed in the ocean of Euro social dramas without making much of a splash.

The setting is Castel Volturno, a 40-minute drive north of Naples, which is fast becoming the go-to location for depressing Camorra movies. Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah, The Embalmer and Dogman made the area famous; De Angelis has set both Indivisible and The Vice of Hope here. The empty, trash-scarred beaches are the haunts of prostitutes, drug traffickers and hustlers.

Here the topic is human trafficking, specifically the sale of newborn infants. Maria, played with grit and fury by Pina Turco, occupies a precarious position as the lieutenant of local boss Aunt Mari, portrayed with deadly aplomb by Marina Confalone. Her job is to shepherd Mari's pregnant African prostitutes when they’re due to give birth to a shack on the river where they will hand over their babies as soon as they’re born. What becomes of them then is not specified, but probably they are sold to childless parents. "It seems to make no difference that they're black," Mari notes in puzzlement. It’s a nasty business but evidently better than the hustling that Maria was doing before. She looks grimly resigned as she tramps around the muddy landscape in men’s clothes and an incongruous crocheted hoodie, with only her beloved pitbull for company.

Turco, like several other members of the cast (Cristina Donadio as her barely-there mother, Massimiliano Rossi as an old boatman who shelters her), comes from the TV series Gomorrah and has a convincing attitude of hopelessness that seems essential for emotional survival. Thus, when she discovers she’s expecting (no partner in sight; the father is, we assume, probably a former client), there’s a tug-of-war between Aunt Mari and her mom about who profits from selling the baby — if she has it. Because as the doctor warns, her insides have been stitched together and she’s fragile as a glued vase; giving birth will kill her. The reason for such physical frailty is revealed by and by as one more horror story to add to the rest.

De Angelis and his co-screenwriter Umberto Contarello, who has worked on Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty and Them, cut themselves off from the bizarre irony that made Indivisible so unique and opt for straight drama. The issue of African immigration, for instance, is tackled with PC politeness. When Maria makes her break with the clan and needs a place to hide, she heads straight for a cove of strong black African women, though one has to wonder how these outcasts can be so friendly, given what she does for a living. Maybe they have seen Maria’s own heart of gold shine through when she has to deal with a frightened hooker who wants to keep her baby, against all the rules.

The film is noteworthy for its production values and the atmosphere of a drizzly, neon-lit hell, which D.P. Ferran Paredes Rubio creates out of the location's emptiness and poverty. Enzo Avitabile’s fine score and the references to African music recall the origins of so many immigrants coming to Italy in search of a better life; what these girls never foresaw is sitting in a row, waiting for clients along the river.

Production companies: Tramp Ltd., O’Groove
Cast: Pina Turco, Massimiliano Rossi, Marina Confalone, Cristina Donadio
Director: Edoardo De Angelis
Screenwriters: Edoardo De Angelis, Umberto Contarello
Producers: Attilio De Razza, Pierpaolo Verga
Director of photography: Ferran Paredes Rubio
Production designer: Carmine Guarino
Costume designer: Massimo Cantini Parrini
Editor: Chiara Griziotti 
Music: Enzo Avitabile
Casting director: Costanza Boccardi
World sales: True Colours
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema)
100 min