It took thirteen years for Igor Tuveri to adapt 5 è il numero perfetto from his own graphic novel of the same name. This is also his first attempt as a film director, Tuveri being a film afficionado himself. His debut is in fact, first of all, an homage to the genre he loves, an appreciation Igort (Tuveri’s nom de plume) wanted to inject in his work since its first conception. At its best the result, as I’ll briefly try to describe, is an atmospheric thriller totally devoted to very few but strong suggestions, most of them prone to a cinematic treatment.
Peppino Lo Cicero (Toni Servillo) is a guappo, a hitman who imparted everything he knows about his craft to his son, Nino (Lorenzo Lancellotti). Nino belongs to a new generation, less aware but showier in the way they handle their contracts. This leads him to lower his guard and suffer the consequences: Nino gets killed in a staged situation, made up in order to hit his father, the real target. Here the leitmotiv of this story appears in all its violence: 5 è il numero perfetto is a vengeance movie.
As already stated, Igort is much more interested in his characters than in what actually happens, something that is better clarified by the film’s structure, split in chapters. It’s all about following Peppino and his companions who occasionally show up in his mad run through this ride, his goal finding the people who instigated the murder and making them pay for it.
Naples is one of the real protagonists though, or at least its reinvention, a gritty, dark and expressionistic version of the city. More than a mere location, it serves as the only environment where a story like this could happen, with its mix of realism and cartoonish tones, very well rendered by DoP Nicolaj Brüel (who worked on Matteo Garrone’s last two films). Definitely an appropriate choice, especially since the mise-en-scène relies a lot on the use Igort makes of space, and not only during the gunfights that are an essential part on their own, since those are the moments when we understand who Peppino really is and see his true nature.
I mentioned the fact that Peppino is not alone in his quest to free himself from his past; Totò (Carlo Buccirosso) and Rita (Valeria Golino) are more than just sidekicks. The first one is an old friend of Peppino; their relationship is central in many ways, especially for one reason, less immediate but not less significant: two old pals who don’t want to accept the idea of leaving that world, their world, that in fact defines them. The malavita, a life of crime which was never intended to be a phase: they chose this life and even if they could regret part of it, overall they abide by their choice for a way of life they still miss a lot.
Rita, an old love, is much more discreet, even if she seems the only one who knows what is really happening in the first place. A vengeance that starts as a lonely battle ends up being in fact a team mission, against Peppino’s intentions, as he would have preferred not to have anyone involved in this mess born out of his sins. What Igort tries to recreate here is an urban western, managing to live up to the initial ambitions only in part.
The problem is that the many relevant stylistic decisions are not entirely supported by a script which fails to give us well-rounded characters. Maybe the complex nature of the project does not help, with its different moods in a sequence of events which are worth only as much as the strength of the characters involved and whether they are believable to some extent. The characters are the measure of everything in 5 è il numero perfetto, an imperfect but at the same time fascinating voyage in a style of cinema Italy should perhaps come back to more often.