Director Stefano Sollima: Suburra is much more realistic than The Godfather

The Italian film-maker on his neo-noir thriller, the Netflix spin-off and helming Sicario 2

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When the mob movie Suburra was released in Italy last October, it was a massive hit.

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It’s brilliantly done – slick, sexy, dark – but that’s not the only reason. It was also the talk of the town because the plot is painfully close to the bone.

All the action takes place in a single week in rain-soaked Rome. Pierfrancesco Favino plays Filippo “Pippo” Malgradi, a crooked MP who wants to turn Rome’s Ostia waterfront into an Italian Las Vegas. After accidentally killing an underage prostitute, he finds himself being blackmailed and asks a gangster pal to bump off the blackmailer, inadvertently sparking brutal turf wars.

Netflix is already making a spin-off series, while director Stefano Sollima has been lined up to direct the sequel to the 2015 hit Sicario. We asked him whether Italian politicians really do work hand in glove with gangsters, and whether he’s ever met a mafioso…


What did Italian politicians make of Suburra?

They were absolutely upset by it of course. What it’s about is a really delicate problem for us so we had an incredible amount of discussion on the topics of the movie.

How close to reality is it?

Close. The day before our theatrical release in Italy, the major of Rome dismissed himself because of a huge scandal called “Mafia Capitale” involving money and the underworld. It’s almost the same as we portrayed in the movie.

What about the Vatican? Did they protest at their unflattering subplot?

Yes, but even this is a real story.

Is that why you wanted to make the movie – to draw attention to the endemic corruption?

I don’t think that’s the most interesting part. I love the idea of making a cool, entertaining and gritty film in modern Rome – of portraying the city in a different and darker way. So I think this was my first idea: to make a thriller but set it up in a real world with real baddies.

Why’s it called Suburra?

Suburra means “under the city”. The centre of Ancient Rome was on Palatine Hill where the aristocracy had luxurious villas. Down the hill was this ghetto called Suburra full of poor people and an incredible amount of places where you can drink and have sex. The rich people would go down there to get drunk and have fun with whores. And it was also the place where they met to do dirty business.

Do you live in Rome?

I was born and raised in Rome. I think this was one of the most interesting parts for me: to portray the darkest side of the Eternal City. Rome is much more complex than its image, than the touristy side.

Your acclaimed TV series Gomorrah was about organised crime in Naples. How influenced are you by The Godfather?

Not at all. From my point of view it’s a little bit a cliché. I think Suburra is much more realistic in its portrayal of the mafia. A mafioso is not just a man who goes around speaking Sicilian. It’s a business model where you don’t respect the law as part of the business model. In Italy we call it the mafia but you have the same in an incredible amount of countries. They just call it something different.

Do you think the mafia is as big a problem now as it ever was in Italy?

It’s absolutely the same. It’ll never change.

Who’s your favourite?

Probably it’s Number Eight because he’s the only one who’s moved by deep feeling: by the dream he has to change his city and the love he has for his fiancé.  I never judge my characters. I love them all. What I try to do in the movie is make the character like he is in reality. In reality, you never have just black and white. You have an incredible amount of grey.

Are you involved in the Netflix spin-off series?

No, just because of schedule issues. It’ll be the first original Netflix production in Italian. I think they will keep just two of the same characters but I’m not sure because I’m not involved at all.

But you are directing the Sicario sequel in autumn?

Yes, although I haven’t signed yet. The idea of the producer is to make three standalone movies in the same world with two of the same characters: Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin as Alejandro and Matt. So it will not be a direct sequel of Sicario. I think it’s cool and original.

Have you ever met a mafioso?

Probably yes. I don’t know. I don’t care!

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SUBURRA is released in cinemas and on demand 24th June