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A Mano Disarmata: Film Review

There are very few journalists who have the fortitude to confront organized crime and it is probably doubly difficult for female journalists with young families, but it seems that the most courageous examples in Europe in recent years have all been women. Veronica Guerin in Ireland in the 1990s before her murder in 1996, Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta for more than two decades up until her assassination in 2017 and Federica Angeli recently in Italy, the subject of this film.

The ubiquitous and talented actress Claudia Gerini plays the role of Angeli and the action takes place in Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber and the port of ancient Rome, now an overcrowded and not particularly interesting beach resort and a largely working class district for workers at the nearby Fiumicino airport.

I’ve always preferred books and films that portray actual events and lives rather than pure fiction and my choices in this section of the website reflect that. For me, when talking about films, the subject matter is sometimes of more importance than any artistic shortcomings in the actual film making but for others that might not be the case and this film is a typical example of modern Italian cinema which lacks the big Hollywood budgets supported by the widespread audience of English language movies.

Nevertheless it tells the story quite well I think and it seems to me that foreign films generally do a much better job of keeping faith with the actual events that they purport to depict than Hollywood does. Having said that I also enjoyed the film Veronica Guerin and by all accounts it was pretty accurate despite being a Jerry Bruckheimer produced movie, which is as Hollywood as it gets.

The events in this film took place from 2013 to 2017 and then were made into this film in 2018, but the criminal prosecutions are ongoing of the more than 30 members and affiliates of the Spada family that have so far been arrested on charges of extortion, loan-sharking and drug-trafficking. The film shows how these people were conducting their affairs with impunity through the complicity of members of the local police and public authorities as well as ordinary citizens.

As for Federica Angeli, she is now in her eighth year of police protection and continues in her job as a reporter. Her work and her personal courage brought wider attention in Italy and especially Rome to the level of criminal activity allowed to flourish in Ostia. There was even a Netflix series released in 2017, Suburra, which portrays the Ostia mafia as being firmly in bed with both the Vatican and the local government in Rome. Suburra is fiction of course but when you see the headline in January this year of the former president of the Vatican bank being sentenced to nine years in jail for corruption you start to wonder just how much truth there might be in seemingly far fetched entertainment like Suburra.

Perhaps the most interesting context in which to see A Mano Disarmata is the warning from 'Reporters Without Borders' that the level of violence against reporters in Italy is “alarming and keeps growing”. In 2018 the Italian Ministry of the interior announced that more than 150 journalists received police protection during 2017, while 19 reporters were under round-the-clock police protection. The majority of them work in Rome, a clear sign of the elevated danger of criminal organizations in the heart of the Italian capital.

It's all very well giving Federica Angeli an award for bravery in the fight against organized crime, as the Italian President Sergio Mattarella did in December 2015, but that's an easy and largely symbolic thing to do. Harder but more worthwhile would be for the government to enact stronger measures and in this film there are various scenes where you can sense the helplessness of the Carabinieri trying to find anyone prepared to testify, and their amazement that Federica Angeli was willing to do so.

This is a good film but not a great film, though it does prove once again Edmund Burke's old adage that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.


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