Marcello (Vinicio Marchioni) is married to Chiara (Anna Foglietta). All the while the former bodybuilder is having an affair with Walter (Vincenzo Salemme), a professor and author (who serves as the narrator as well). Mauro’s (Maurizio Tesei) ambitions outpace his limited means at all times. This causes strife with his wife, Simona (Giulia Bevilacqua); so he involves himself in the business of local crime lord Carmine (Nuccio Siano). Between the walls of the rundown apartment complex just outside of Rome all these lives converge into each other. Will anyone be left standing, or do the wayward bring everyone down with them?
So goes the intense character drama Tainted Souls, the latest from directing duo Matteo Botrugno and Daniele Coluccini, of And Peace On Earth notoriety. Much like that film, Tainted Souls is about people just on the cusp of being integrating into higher society, but never quite getting there. This new one is a much more assured film, despite the fact that its two-hour runtime means the middle drags a bit.
The opening sees Mauro haggling with the landlord Gianfranco (Roberto Stocchi) about their flat. See, it’s two rooms are fixed at 35 Euros a month, but there is a third room that never got listed. The landlord asks for 20,000 Euros for it. After some debate, it is agreed upon. This little conversation, the first one in the entire movie, expertly sets up what all the characters are after and what their downfall shall be. Gianfranco wants to keep the third flat a secret, so it doesn’t become a fixed income rent a la the other apartments. So, he offers Mauro a good deal, despite the price being so much more than the fixed rate. Mauro wants it as he aspires to a particular lifestyle, especially when it comes to Simona. However, there is a reason the couple is at this building as opposed to another.
“…people just on the cusp of being integrating into higher society, but never quite getting there…”
All the characters are equally defined and engaging. Marcello’s struggle with his wife and secret lover, Bruno’s hooliganism getting him permanently barred from the stadium, and even Carmine’s hopes and fears get examined. This is great for the first hour or so. The viewers remain invested, and despite the large cast, everyone is unique, and no two people are confused for each other. The script is remarkable in this way.
Then Tainted Souls jumps three years ahead, and the viewer has to be re-introduced to the characters (most of them anyway) and meet new ones for the first. It is a bit disorientating at first, but once the climatic finale begins to take shape, the necessity of the time jump becomes clear.
Despite being dialogue heavy, the directors do an incredible job of keeping the momentum going and visually arresting. After Mauro and Simona move in, they walk from their third (or maybe it’s the fourth) down to the archway in the front and go for a walk. The camera slowly slinks down with them as each stairwell is descended. The other main players come into view as this happens and it is impressive.
However, beyond anything else, Tainted Souls is a film that lives or dies by its acting. Luckily, most everyone is quite brilliant. Stocchi, as the landlord, doesn’t have a lot of screen time but he is bursting with energy and life. Marchioni is revelatory as the confused Marcello. After getting beat up for messing with the slot machines in a casino, Marcello visits Walter. The way he barks at his lover, only to apologize right away feels authentic. As Simona, Bevilacqua is excellent. Her frustrations at Mauro, who seems to just go for easy money, is understandable.
“…gripping and compelling…realistic and relatable…superb…sublime…”
Tesei imbues Mauro with warmth and charisma, so even at his most conviving, the viewer still relates and empathizes with him. Nuccio Siano plays Carmine as somebody with the world by a string and not afraid to ensure everyone knows it. It is a confident performance, one that leaves a lasting impression on the audience.
As excellent as the writing, acting, and directing is, Tainted Souls does have a few issues. As already mentioned, the time jump does not work right away and makes the movie drag a bit. This is minor though, as it works its way toward the fantastic ending. Playing Bruno is Michele Botrungo, and he is a bit boring. Not bad exactly, but he gets lost amongst all the other fine thespians having a ball with their juicy characters.
The biggest issue is the music. Two sequences, one being the at the very end, the other a few minutes before the three-year gap, are set to very depressing, slow songs. These are the only two music cues to work really. Paolo Vivaldi’s score tries too often to obviously tell the audience what they should be feeling at any given moment. Yes, all films emotionally manipulate their audience, but there is an art to being subtle about it. The score is not.
Despite the issues with the score, Tainted Souls is gripping and compelling. The characters are realistic and relatable, the acting is superb, the directing is sublime, and the screenplay handles its large cast expertly.
Tainted Souls (2018) Directed by Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Coluccini. Written by Matteo Botrugno, Daniele Coluccini, Nuccio Siano. Starring Nuccio Siano, Vinicio Marchioni, Anna Foglietta, Vincenzo Salemme, Maurizio Tesei, Giulia Bevilacqua
8 Gummi Bears (out of 10)