fri 01/03/2024

The Mafia’s Secret Bunkers, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Mafia’s Secret Bunkers, BBC Two

The Mafia’s Secret Bunkers, BBC Two

Lack of meaty footage undermines investigation of Calabria's 'Ndrangheta

John Dickie goes underground to expose the 'Ndrangheta

I was once the summer guest of friends in southern Calabria, where the head of a hapless “family traitor” in the nearby village of Taurianova had been hacked off and then kicked around the piazza like a football: the news was greeted by the locals with no more than raised eyebrows and a resigned shrug of the shoulders.

These things are not often caught on film, and certainly weren’t on offer in The Mafia’s Secret Bunkers. Indeed it’s a good thing that eminent bespectacled academic John Dickie has a good head for heights, as he spends a good deal of this fairly breathless BBC documentary detailing the high octane horrors of Italy’s murkiest Mafia outfit while peering out from the safe distance of the spy hole of an “invisible” police helicopter. He also overlooks some pretty spectacular scenery courtesy of his cash-strapped hosts, the Italian Carabinieri.

Calabria – which is shaped like a rasher of bacon and stretches from just below Naples (where the Camorra hold sway) down as far as the tip of the boot, a few miles off Sicily (featuring the better known Mafia) - boasts its own peculiarly nasty illegal criminal organisation, the ‘Ndrangheta. Who, as the expression goes, make their Camorra and Mafia neighbours look like pussy cats. Not only for the breathtaking cruelty of their “rules”, but for the broad international sweep of their empire today.

It may be Italy’s poorest, and wildest-looking, region, but Calabria is at the nerve-centre of a vast criminal outreach – centred mostly on drugs and intimidation rackets – across the world, and so it is perhaps surprising that the ‘Ndrangheta is not better known abroad, to the extent that the BBC have fudged their name in the title in favour of the more generic species name.

For an academic, Dickie is rather good on telly, although his natural communicative style is somewhat hampered by the BBC conventions on presenting such documentaries: speaking in an urgent but needless stage whisper, glancing around in a hammed-up, paranoid manner, and generally adopting the conspiratorial style of a (much cheaper) Donald MacIntyre. So too, the complete set of visual tropes from the BBC “moody lighting” toolbox – a good deal of the nasty ‘Ndrangheta’s heroin stash is sited underground, in bunkers and cellars (cue lenses probing down access pipes and tunnels) as the dull, slightly metallic voices of random uniformed Italian drug investigators run through the inventory of “what they got and what we’ve managed to snaffle so far”.

The schoolboyish Dickie sticks to safer ground, but there’s only so much mean atmos you can stuff into an hour-long documentary, especially without the really grisly footage that the Beeb would never show. Calabrian towns look uniformly grey and dull (or their concrete modern bits do) but not really all that sinister: some of the bling-bedizened, security camera-bristling dream villas built by the hood high-ups to flaunt their wealth don’t really communicate the idea that renegades or kidnap victims may have been tortured in the cellars, just the surface impact of stunning bad taste. (Pictured, a Calabrian house under which police found a 'Ndrangheta bunker.)

The truly monstrous ethos that the various ‘Ndrangheta families have imposed on some of their “controlled” territories is impossible to convey on screen without authentic footage. Even Donald MacIntyre at his most conspiratorial couldn’t pull that one off, without it.

It may be Italy’s poorest, and wildest-looking, region, but Calabria is at the nerve-centre of a vast criminal outreach


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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