Off the back of his multi-award winning film Indivisible (Indivisibili), Naples native Edoardo De Angelis returns to once more explore unique human conditions in his 2018 drama The Vice of Hope (Il Vizio della Speranza).
Set in the dilapidated Castel Volturno just northwest of Naples, we first meet 20-something Maria at the local yacht club. Unlike what the name suggests – a high class, lavish establishment – Castel Volturno yacht club is entirely overrun by half-destroyed buildings, mountains of garbage, and a revolving door of local and refugee prostitutes. It paints a clear image for the trajectory of the life of its inhabitants; bleak and miserable.
Maria, played with an undeniable sense of grit by Pina Turco, works and lives in Castel Volturno under the chic and oppressive thumb of local Mafiosa Auntie Mari (Marina Confalone), trafficking pregnant prostitutes to a waterside shack where they give birth. Maria takes on her role as a shepherd with a grim determination that suggests the alternative employment in this town is much, much worse. What becomes of these children after they are born is unknown, though as Maria reiterates to her friend and 4-time client of Mari’s that they are “happy as we were as children”. Presumably they are sold off to childless parents and we can only hope that what Maria says of their future is true.
A prized foot-soldier, Maria’s resolve for her work is thrown off kilter when the disappearance of one of her pregnant charges coincides with a surprise pregnancy of her own. Suddenly facing a moral crossroads, Maria’s loyalties and capabilities are brought into question and claim is staked on the life growing inside her. Soon begins the emotional turmoil of being pregnant in a town where new life is the only currency. Maria’s doctor likens her to a broken vase that has been ‘glued together’, hinting at a trauma from her past that would make this pregnancy a miracle in itself. Her life and the life of her child are now both on the line, stuck in a needless tug-of-war between her absent-minded mother and ruthless boss to decide who will get to profit most from the birth, if it happens at all.
For a brief moment De Angelis gives us a glimmer of hope in the small but spirited tribe of African prostitutes that foster Maria in a time of need. In stark contrast to the yacht club, this cove of comfort is full of loud and joyful music, heartwarming food and engaging conversations with the young refugee girl Virgin (Nancy Colarusso) and retired carnival worker Carlo (Massimiliano Rossi).
It’s implied that Maria has had dealings with the refugee women before, perhaps in the same capacity as she serves Mari, but that unlike the women at the yacht club they see the sweet and kind nature that lies under her rough exterior. For a moment we are left thinking that maybe Maria’s life is going to improve after all, however we quickly see that life with the refugees doesn’t differ much from Maria’s home. In this coastal town, no matter where you go, crime and destitution are completely inescapable.
At its penultimate moment, De Angelis’ film suddenly picks up speed only to stop short again; we are given half a resolution to Maria’s story and are left with more questions than answers. Film-goers who love their experiences to be wrapped neatly in a bow will be left mildly frustrated and those who love to speculate on the possibilities will feel well-fed. While not entirely satisfied myself, De Angelis’ film is still engaging and heart-wrenching enough to be entertaining.
The Vice of Hope is at cinemas until October 16th as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.