Men of Honour / Uomini d’ Onore
Italy / Germany 2009, 70 min. Italian with German subtitles
Direction and screenplay: Francesco Sbano
Camera: Marcus Jaeger, Sound: Graziano Ruzzeddu, Editing: Florentine Bruck. Produced by Mazza Films / Corazón International (Hamburg)
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Much has been written and broadcast since a commando of the ’ndrangheta shot down six men in Duisburg in August 2007. Shedding true light on the issue, “Men of Honour” is the first documentary film to put the Calabrian Mafia bosses themselves in front of the camera.
They not only explain why the Duisburg murders took place (as part of a vendetta between two feuding clans) but also reveal that the mafia is doing business in the midst of Germany – with large-scale operations. “We powder your noses and build your roads” says the German adjutant of the ’ndrangheta, as the Mafia is known in Calabria. He blows the whistle on construction projects and financial transactions that the Calabrian Mafia has used to wash drug money. “Today we are respected in higher political circles around the globe,” he explains, “particularly here in Germany.”
Film director Francesco Sbano, himself Calabrian, conducted years of research and was ultimately successful in penetrating to the very centre of the “Onorata Società”, or the “honourable society”. The Mafia godfathers show us their rituals, their traditions and their code of honour. Never before has a film been so successful in reporting directly and authentically from within this clandestine world.
“Men of Honour” takes us to the Aspromonte Mountains, to the origins of the ’ndrangheta – a journey that throws our picture of Italy out of focus. Filmed in quiet, wintery 16mm images by cameraman Marcus Jaeger, the film recounts the history of the Italian South as it has never been told before.
In “Men of Honour”, the voices of day labourers and farming families are heard. Musicians sing about the deeds of the ’ndrangheta. And the residents of San Luca di Aspromonte stubbornly defend their village’s name, fending off its reputation as a hub of organised crime. The film leads us deep into the hinterlands of Palermo and Naples, areas ridden with poverty and hopelessness. It tells of a culture alive between pride and desperation; a culture that wants social progress but needs the Mafia. “The command is sacred,” says a masked “latitante”, a man of honour who, having committed a bloody deed, is forced to live in the solitude of the mountains for several years. “As a child, I had nothing. The honourable society raised me; it is the mother of all Calabrians.”
“Men of Honour” also recounts how the mafia has been continually used and endorsed by the powerful: how the Allied forces hired the Mafia to prepare the landing of US troops during World War II. How politicians profited from vote buying carried out by the local Mafiosi. How Mafia millions were fed into the nation’s financial system and how the Mafiosi advanced to become construction magnates, while their homeland was left behind as a social no man's land.
“Italy’s unity is a great deception,” says the elderly historian Nicola Zitara, relegating the schoolbook version to the realm of legend. Under no circumstances had the rich North always maintained the upkeep of the impoverished South. During the 1860s, Piedmont was practically bankrupt. In the War of 1861, the Piedmonts secured the deposits of the Bank of Naples and then brutally crushed the subsequent insurgencies of the so-called “brigands” of rural Southern Italy.
The streets of Calabria are still named after the Piedmont generals who introduced martial law. And the presence of the “briganti”, the rural guerrillas of the 19th century, is still ubiquitous. They live on in the traditions of the Mafia – present in the tattoos of the old pastry baker, for instance, who is proud to be a “man of honour”. “We’re like snakes – poisonous”, he says, and shows the filmmaker a snakehead tattoo on his biceps. Above it, a wind rose is emblazoned, symbolizing “Omertà”, the conspiracy of silence. “As long as I live, I will never fall into the filth” is inscribed on his other arm.