Leonida Riva (Fabrizio Gifuni) is an ex-military member of the Italian Special Forces retired from missions for years now. He is a survivor with PTSD, so he stuffs himself with drugs and keeps his family away as much as possible. Not a simple life, that of Leonidas, that just as the homonymous Spartan leader he finds himself having to stop an army of invading thoughts and wounds from the past in the narrow space of his psyche. He has an austere and scruffy look: shaved head, long and unkempt grizzled beard, a heavy green jacket with a furious bear print on his shoulders; perhaps that is why it is nicknamed La Belva.
Between remorse and suffering, Riva still feels a sincere and deep love for his two children, Mattia and Teresa, and when the latter, the youngest, is mysteriously kidnapped, our protagonist he does not hesitate for a moment to return "to war" to save her, in a nocturnal and urban battlefield, against dangerous enemies, metropolitan terrorists, human traffickers. An irrepressible anger that Leonidas channels and exploits to bring down the child's torturers one after another, also antagonizing the police along the perhaps most important and fundamental mission of his life.
Between gender and identity
The Belva by Ludovico Di Martino begins as Todd Phillips' Joker - made the necessary distinctions. We see the character played by a muscular and severe Gifuni talking to his psychiatrist in a sort of tight and aseptic office: he wants to increase the dose of the drugs "to stay calm". The doctor listens to him and takes out an orange vial of pills while in the background, to accompany his exit from the study, he leaves Iron di Woodkid.
The idea behind the second film of the director of Our Last is obviously derivative: it reads in I will find you with Liam Neeson after just fifteen minutes of viewing, given the military background of the protagonist and the whole story of the kidnapping of his daughter. Geo-coordinates, scenic and formal language change, but the substance is an Italian reinterpretation of that concept, however reworked and with a different cinematic fiber.
The feeling is that of finding oneself in front of a genre cinema that is in the Bel Paese it is hardly faced with so much courage, explicit and researched. And not just any genre but the action genre, which given the production costs and the difficulty of shooting is often approved in our part, without a backbone, with little verve, zero fun. Supported by Matteo Rovere's Greenland and from Warner Bros, on the other hand, Di Martino probably produces one of the best "boot" action movies ever, even if that doesn't mean perfectindeed quite the opposite.
Leaving aside some naivety in the writing phase, such as an unconvincing third act and in general a dialogic quality not exactly exciting, La Belva does not seem to want to look at a strong national identity or even regional - in this case Capitoline - as they did for example They called him Jeeg Robot or the more recent Ultras. Everything is designed to oxygenate the entire production with a more than international breath, looking at especially American peculiarities (the drugs in tubes, the headquarters of the police, the music, the stalls, the chases, the diners) that in the film work discreetly but that appear a bit naive, cinematically credible but slightly out of place and reach.
Not a real problem, to tell the truth, considering for example the presence of two action sequence plans that obviously look at the best of the genre on large or small screen, which is the now canceled Netflix's Daredevil or David Leitch's Blonde Atomic. Di Martino is a real talent but to be scorned: he should perhaps focus on the search for a more precise authorial identity, but his second film in his career (and after several music videos) still gives him good satisfactions.
La Belva is a violent, rhythmic and visceral title, e much of the credit goes to Fabrizio Gifuni (Human Capital), which gives his Leonidas physical and emotional characteristics turbid and articulated, taking on the role of a veteran tormented by the ghosts of war and always full of adrenaline and tension.
He speaks because he has to but not too much, with a tight mouth, almost always annoyed. Its appearance frightens and disturbs but at the same time fascinates, because a canvas full of wounds and stories how could it be that of Frank Castle in The Punisher. In the practical act of beating his hands, Gifuni surprises: not so much for the choreography - not too complex apart from two - but for the way he faces the scene and the aggressive yet stoic mood with which he collects and strikes, as if not it mattered, as if she were out of her body, she didn't feel any kind of pain.
Yet he spits blood and fatigue, accumulating more or less serious ailments and wounds. Also in this sense there is a strong international breath inside the film, with the intention of telling the drama and the mission of the character also through the accumulation of lesions that go to fill and deform physical and face of the character.
Also worth mentioning is the ultra-caricatured and amused interpretation of the villain, Mozart, played by Andrea Pennacchi, which might have deserved a little more space to make the story and positive gender exasperation even more credible. The Belva is however a film that works and intrigues, with some really exciting moments which especially action lovers will find very interesting and successful. And also the closure conceived by the director, in all honesty, is something that Italian cinema knows little about: dedicated to the consequences, effective, embroidered on the whole affair and beautiful.