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Eduardo De Angelis The Vice of Hope

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The Vice of Hope | 2018 Toronto Intl. Film Festival Review

The Vice of Hope | 2018 Toronto Intl. Film Festival Review

Hope to It: De Angelis Tackles Child Trafficking in Latest Neapolitan Drama

Life may be bleak, but it’s also textured with fascinating possibilities in the landscapes of Italian director Edoardo De Angelis, who turns to child trafficking in his fifth feature The Vice of Hope, set in the specific locale of Castel Volturno area outside of Naples, purportedly one of the unruliest areas in the country. His latest plays like a sister film to his 2016 title Indivisible (review), which focused on conjoined twin sisters desperate to become separated despite their parents’ wish to continue utilizing them for economic potential as sideshow freaks. Returning to the same area and the same Neapolitan dialect, De Angelis also borrows some cast members and recurring themes about women in need of medical attention and, through it, demanding agency over their bodies which have been used to turn profits for others. More neo-realist than the Ferreri-esque elements peppered throughout his last feature, the perseverance of hope against all apparent odds seems to be the takeaway despite otherwise somber, formidably dire packaging.

Maria (Pina Turco of television series “Gomorrah”) is a desensitized woman who works for a child trafficking ring operated by Aunt Mari (Marina Confalone), taking the children from surrogate mothers after they’ve been sold to the mob and shipping them to their new destinations. But when Maria suddenly becomes pregnant, a prospect she had never envisioned for herself due to significant health issues, she must decide whether to keep the baby. Keeping the baby means she would die, but it’s birth would also fetch a hefty buying price since it’s a white child. Joined by her companion, a female pit bull, Maria tries to find an alternative option for her future.

De Angelis co-wrote the script for The Vice of Hope with Paolo Sorrentino’s usual scribe Umberto Contarello, whose dialogue lends a sometimes-poetic loftiness in certain exchanges, such as an initial description of Maria, who is described by a gynecologist as being “like a broken vase that’s been glued back together,” and therefore doomed to die upon giving birth. The film’s seamier tendencies would have been gleeful stomping grounds for something in the vein of a Pasolini women’s picture (such as the fantastic Mamma Roma, 1962), but De Angelis stops short of allowing Maria to be anything other than a symbolic martyr, a redemptive Mary Magdalene type whose sacrifice sounds as a noble as it is naive.

There is, however, a fantastic supporting part for Marina Confalone, a celebrated Italian actress (who has won four David di Donatello awards) who has appeared in titles by Fellini and Wertmuller, here a self-serving, bitter but cautiously kind madame of the local child trafficking racket who guides Maria merrily to her doom. One of the film’s best sequences finds Confalone sneering at Maria’s biological mother, who intends to sell the child upon its birth, but Aunt Mari has other plans (a situation which also highlights familiar disparaging hierarchal race issues). The script also allows Confalone all the most colorful lines, directly addressing the films melodramatic title when she describes Maria as a foolish woman who has been “infected with hope” and later pontificates on her professional standing by announcing to her subordinates that “slavery is beautiful.”

Narratively, The Vice of Hope plays like the morose prologue to an environmental sci-fi apocalypse extravaganza, such as a less sensationalized Margaret Atwood scenario or the prelude to Children of Men (2006). Conversations about the lack of fertility inform several tangential conversations, such as another woman convinced of another pregnancy only to learn she’s been carrying a tumor. Massimiliano Rossi, who was the self-serving father in Indivisible, pops up as the only bright spot of humanity, a sympathetic boat captain whom Maria designates as the child’s godfather. Meaningful without ever transcending into something extraordinary, The Vice of Hope favors victims of circumstance, but the ticking time bomb that is Maria’s pregnancy sometimes seems to rush us through the rich possibilities and subtexts De Angelis doesn’t tap into.

Reviewed on September 6th at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema Programme. 100 Mins.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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