Matrioshki, Sky Arts1, Belgian crime drama

Matrioshki, Sky Arts

ARRIVING on Sky Arts1 tonight is the 2005 Belgian crime drama Matrioshki, the story of 10 young impoverished eastern European women lured to Belgium with the promise of a better life.

Confrontation in Matrioshki on Sky Arts

You’ve guessed it. It’s a trap, and prostitution is the name of the game for the gangsters who lure them there. In tonight’s opener (at 10.15pm) the Belgian mafia arrives in Vilnius, Lithuania, and auditions the young women, before asking them to sign a contract – which is written in Greek. Arriving in town at the same time is Nico Maes, a journalist who warns the women not to sign…

I haven’t yet seen Matrioshki – which apparently means doll –  and it sounds like a strong subject. A review will follow soon, but beware of the scenes of sex and violence. A second season followed in 2007.

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Romanzo Criminale – Italian TV series PREVIEW

Ice, the Lebanese, Patrizia, Dandi and Scialoja (front). Pics: BSkyB

Rating ★★★★

Sky Arts 1 from Tuesday, 4 October, 9pm

Story: Inspired by real events – in Rome during the 1970s, a gang run by a crook known as the  Lebanese joins forces with that of a shrewd rival leader called Ice to attempt to become criminal kingpins in the capital. Their first bid to make huge amounts of cash involves kidnapping a wealthy aristocrat, but the plot goes violently wrong… On the trail of the Banda della Magliana, as the gang is called, is idealistic police inspector Nicola Scialoja.

The latest subtitled crime series to hit town and rough-up the home-grown plods such as Lewis and DCI Banks is Romanzo Criminale, a 22-part gangster epic inspired by real events.

Following on from the Wallander successes, Spiral and The Killing, this Italian drama from Sky Italia is all macho stares, nudity, 70s pop music and brutal gang warfare. While it is reminiscent of GoodFellas – murders cross-cut with weddings, set to rock music; the period setting – it is also an compelling bit of history from a turbulent period in Italy’s recent past.

The Lebanese holds court

Kidnapping goes brutally wrong
The focus of the story is a small-time gangster called the Lebanese (all the crooks go by nicknames). Sick of being a minnow in the capital’s crime pool, he and his partner, Dandi, set out to generate some serious cash by kidnapping a wealthy aristocrat, Baron Rosellini, and ransoming him. The Lebanese falls in with another mob run by a clever leader called Ice, and together they try to step up to the big league.

Where the Mafia run Sicily and the Camorra rule Naples, Rome’s underworld is a patchwork of warring gangs. The Lebanese and his partners from around the Magliana district hope their kidnapping will help them rise to the top and take over from the crime warlord known as Terrible.

Inspector Scialoja

The abduction goes brutally wrong, but the gang audaciously come away with the money. The Lebanese convinces most of the gangsters to forgo the prostitutes and Porsches they’ve been dreaming of and actually invest in a new criminal enterprise – drugs.

Old Fiats and massive moustaches
Director Stefano Sollima, a former news cameraman, uses handheld cameras on the streets of Rome to bring the action to vivid life. The period detail, from the vintage Fiat cars to the extravagant moustaches and music by the likes of Iggy Pop and Chic, recreate the period brilliantly.

Sollima assembled a cast of young unknowns, who age convincingly along with their characters as the drugs, women, gambling and outside forces of the Mafia and the police close in. It’s a tough and realistic depiction of the gang and its era.

Romanzo Criminale (Crime Novel) is based on a 1000-page book by the Roman judge, novelist and scriptwriter Giancarlo De Cataldo. This was first turned into a successful Italian movie before the series was made for TV.

Flares for violence – the Banda

While character names have been changed, the true events behind the narrative are familiar to Italians. It was a murky time in the country, with neo-fascist terrorism and police brutality taking place. As the Banda della Magliana rise to prominence, the security services want to enlist it to destabilise the government.

Dandi’s prostitute girlfriend
Up against the gang is idealistic police inspector Nicola Scialoja, suspected of being a communist by his superiors, he has a battle to convince his bosses that a Roman gang is behind the kidnapping. However, he’s only human, and ends up falling for Dandi’s prostitute girlfriend, the stunning Patrizia.

Italian newspaper La Stampa called the series ‘the best television series ever produced in Italy’. Despite the country’s appetite for trashy game and chat shows, that’s no back-handed compliment.

Romanzo Criminale certainly dwarfs most UK crime dramas in terms of its scale and ambition. Bravo!

Cast: Francesco Montanari The Lebanese, Vinicio Marchioni Ice, Alessandro Roja Dandi, Marco Bocci Inspector Scialoja, Daniela Virgilio Patrizia, Marco Giallini Terrible

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