The Noir genre in film or fiction was bound to find fertile ground within Italy, given the high levels of moral duplicity, obscurantism and corruption within many of its institutions and in general public life – made even more stark when contrasted with those heroic figures who have entered into combat with these dark forces without thought to personal safety and often at personal cost. Italian society seems ready made for ‘noir’ and Como is the ideal location for appreciating it since its stunning natural location will calm the spirits after the moral turbulence provoked by this annual feast and festival of noir.
This December sees Como and its Teatro Sociale hosting ‘Noir in Festival’ for the third year since its transfer in 2016 from Courmayeur in the Aosta Valley. Half of the festival is based in Milan but from December 6th to 9th, all events go lakeside. Other than a couple of prize givings (including this year’s Raymond Chandler Award awarded to Jo Nesbo), the festival’s activities are screening original language films or tv shows in the main auditorium or having authors present some of their latest works in the Sala Bianca. The films and tv shows are international but the author presentations are all Italian this year with the exception of Lars Kepler. So there is no better place to take the pulse of current day Italian noir and for taking bets on whose works may next be translated into English.
The following Italian authors will be presenting their recent novels over the four days; Mariolina Venezia, Gianni Biondillo, Roberto Costantini, Carlo Lucarelli and Antonio Valenzi. None of these latest releases are yet available in English but both they and their authors are worth checking out for an insight into current trends in Italian crime fiction.
The first author up on the podium is Mariolina Venezia this Thursday at 17.30. She will be discussing her latest work, ‘Rione Serra Venerdi’ with Annarita Briganti. The novel is set in Matera in the heart of the southern region of Basilicata, a town embracing global tourism but still haunted by past poverty. The heroine Imma Tataranni is a state prosecutor tempted into an inappropriate relationship with a police detective into betraying her husband and jeopardising her family.
Mariolina Venezia has published poetry and both film and TV scripts as well as publishing a historical saga tracing a Basilicata family over the last 150 years. Some of her previous books are available in English, French and other languages.
Gianni Biondillo makes a welcome return to Noir in Festival on Friday in the Sala Bianca at 17.30. His novels are set in his own home town of Milan and feature the run-down Quarto Oggiaro, where he himself was raised. ‘Il Sapore del Sangue’ has Biondillo’s Inspector Ferraro investigating into why a multiple murderer seems to be out on early release from the Bollate Prison.
Gianni Biondillo has written seven Inspector Ferraro novels all located in Milan. He is an architect by training and has written an account of Como’s famous architect son, Antonio Sant’Elia as well as also writing for film, TV and theatre. Some of his books have been translated into French and Spanish.
His place is taken by Roberto Costantini at 18.30 who will be discussing his latest novel ‘Da Molto Lontano’. His detective Michele Balistreri, described as scarred in ‘both body and mind’ tries to resolve a cold case dating back to Rome in the summer of 1990. His failure to clear that up at the time now comes back to haunt him as he faces his retirement.
Roberto Costantini wrote the prize winning ‘Trilogy of Evil’ series starting back in 1952 with ‘The Memory of Evil’ (2014) giving a noir view over the previous sixty years of Italian history. The trilogy features ageing detective Michele Balistreri with this last novel offering insights into his complex character as he faces retirement. His Evil Trilogy is available in English and other languages.
Carlo Lucarelli presents ‘Peccato Mortale’ on Saturday at 17.00 and it takes us back to 1943 and the period between the overthrow of Mussolini and the armistice signed with the allies in September by the king and Prime Minister Badoglio. His detective, Inspector De Luca working in Bologna, gets embroiled in dangerous politics as he investigates the mystery of a headless corpse.
Carlo Lucarelli’s police detectives – Coliandro, De Luca and Grazia Negro – have all been filmed or televised. He himself has also directed film and made both radio and television programmes. He is a journalist and teaches creative writing in school and prison. Some of his books are available in English and French.
Antonio Valenzi appears on the last day of the festival on Sunday morning at 12.00 in the Sala Turca. He presents ‘Il Quinto Dominio’. This novel takes on the shadowy world of international corporations and their political backers as they maneuver for power and profit. As might be expected in the era of global capitalism, the noir tentacles spread out to France, South America and beyond.
Antonio Valenzi took up journalism after trying out a string of different jobs. He covered a variety of investigative topics involving the media industry and currently writes a blog on media affairs for the Huffington Post. His second novel ‘Golden Standard’ won the 2016 Casa Sanremo Writers Prize. His books have not yet been translated into English as far as I can establish.
Italian Noir presents many grey and negative aspects of Italian society, well beyond the stereotypical images of a beautiful and cultured country. This is not to say that Italy lacks culture and beauty. Far from it BUT it is also a country where many private lives get caught up in the machinations of seemingly indifferent state and morally dubious private institutions and where injustices, whether intended or accidental, may never get resolved – rich territory for our modern day noir writers.