Casting Toni Servillo these days is becoming something of a short-hand for a sympathetic but highly flawed character.

Plot summary

'Gorbiacof' is in love with a Chinese girl called Lila and, when he discovers that her father can’t pay a debt incurred at the card table, he steals the money from the prison coffers and gives it to the girl. From that moment on, between losing games, collecting backhanders and committing robberies, he sets out on a slippery slope from which there is no turning back.

Casting Toni Servillo these days is becoming something of a short-hand for a sympathetic but highly flawed character.  The mobster / politician / official whose questionable actions are always committed for a perceived “greater good”.  The anti-hero. Indeed, Italy has always had a perverse relationship with corruption, where on one hand it is something to be condemned, yet perpetrators are always treated with a bizarre sort of respect for having the audacity to be so scheming, and so any condemnation they face is always rather half-hearted (the current Italian Prime Minister is a case in point!).

Following turns in recent blockbusting and critic pleasing films Il Divo and Gomorrah, Servillo returns in Gorbaciof, not playing a certain Russian politician, but a prison clerk with a rather large birthmark across his forehead.  Gorbaciof is addicted to gambling and plays fairly highly staked games of poker with a bunch of mobsters, funding himself with wads of petty cash stolen from the prison in which he works.  When the restaurant owner in whose establishment the gambling takes place appears to be on the verge of staking the virginity of his beautiful young daughter, Gorbaciof steps in, romancing her with gifts and acts of chivalry.

As she doesn’t speak Italian, their romance is based largely in gestures, and so it is through his kind treatment of her that the young woman gradually allows the besotted man to become a part of her life.  That she fully understands what he is saying when he suggests they run away together is doubtful, but to this end, Gorbaciof’s idealistic ideas lead him to taking ever greater and more illegal risks to be with the woman he loves.

Filmed around the streets of Naples with often dizzyingly fast camerawork, there is constant movement in most of the shots lending an anxious energy to the film overall.  The moments of stillness are experienced in the increasingly dangerous space around the card table, where excessive close-ups of cards and cash fetishise the players’ desperation for success.

A moody and fairly interesting character portrait, Gorbaciof reveals little that hasn’t already been covered in numerous other films, yet with another immersive performance from Servillo, it holds the attention in the same way as Napoli itself; blasting you with noise and constant movement, allowing you mere glimpses of romance and stillness beyond the blur!