“I write my books and my articles to carry out my own revenge against those who try to silence me, to shut me out”: An interview with journalist and author of Piranhas (La paranza dei bambini) Roberto Saviano
Roberto Saviano, the renowned journalist and author of the prolific book La Paranza dei Bambini, approached Claudio Giovannesi to adapt his work. They had already worked together on Gomorrah, a crime television series that exposed the Neapolitan crime network. In the case of Piranhas, they weren’t looking to create another genre piece. They wanted to show the emotional lives of the “Piranhas” phenomenon in which young teenagers fill the power vacuum to lead the crime organisations. In making the irreversible decision, drawn by the allure of money and power, these teens don’t know the full extent of what they are getting into.
We spoke with Saviano about how realistically the Mafia is represented on screen, the influence of Mafia movies on the Mafia and what is the driving force that keeps him in the risky business of uncovering the underpinnings of crime economic networks, not just in Italy but around the world.
How realistic is what we see on screen? The story, the set, the characters?
The whole story and all the characters are inspired by true events. Of course, then we reconstructed the story. For instance, the protagonist Nicola is somehow many different baby bosses combined in one. We deleted all the man figures, the fathers and the grown-ups. To give you another example, the scene where they shoot on the rooftop covering the sound with fireworks is true.
How do you think fiction movies have changed the mentality of the Mafia?
The crime organisation watch films about the Mafia a lot. We can say that it is more Mafioso watching these films and inspiring themselves from films than the opposite. But it was never of matter of drawing inspiration to commit a crime by watching a film, which is often what I am accused about. But the cinematic language that is often adopted by criminal organisations is done in order to better communicate. The world of the Mafia, the Italian American Mafia in the US started to use again the expression “forget about it” after Johnny Brasco. So, it is them who get inspiration from cinema, not vice versa.
How do the kids in the film feel about the world around them?
All the kids that act in the film have ordinary work. For instance, Nicola is a patisserie chef, another is a cook, another a barber. They all work in the Neapolitan district. They are very familiar with the baby bosses. They themselves have said that being part of this film has helped them understand how disgusting that lifestyle is, how ugly it is to live in fear all the time and lose people that are close to your heart.
Every time when you have a topic, it is unveiling another thing that is worse and worse. Where do you find your strength to carry on? Where is your hope?
The strength? I draw it from two things that are not so noble. First, is revenge. I write my books and my articles to carry out my own revenge against those who try to silence me, to shut me out. I am referring not only to Mafia bosses but politicians. The other is the ambition that I have. The ambition of being able, through my words, to shed light, to disseminate the knowledge of the mechanisms of these organisations, not only in Italy or in the south of Italy but all over the world. As for my hope. I used to have more than I have now. The more I grow older the less I have. I am convinced that whoever decides some time to read a book or see a film or to dig into and have a better insight into a problem has a better insight.
How has Salvini changed the politics in Europe?
Europe and European countries should be very worried. They should consider Italy as the wrong future. There’s a symbol that I consider very serious and I’ve been hopelessly trying to find support abroad in other countries. The symbol is that the Minister of Interior, Salvini, is always wearing a police uniform, not only in special ceremonies but every day. That is something that had not been seen in a democratic country after the end of the Second World War. The European countries tend to think this is the usual Italian clown show. No. That’s not what it is. It’s a message that he is sending out. He is saying if you have a problem with me you have a problem with police authority.
Do you believe Putin is a real role model for European politics?
I don’t think Italy belongs to the Western world anymore; it belongs to the Eastern world. The goal, the main goal is Putin. Putin is a role model and is liked and appreciated not only by politicians but, on my pages, I see on the social networks by thousands and thousands of supporters of people that root for him. He does so in a physicality that is not particularly attractive. He is quite short like Berlusconi was. Therefore he doesn’t look too scary in a way. Salvini is actually sending out the same message.
Is it good that you have enemies? Without them, you wouldn’t have any subjects?
It’s true to some extent. My biggest desire is to one day overcover my obsession. My obsession leads me to think that Mafia is the subject that there is more reality to dig into. I know that’s delusional but all obsessive people believe that the subject matter is the most real to explore.
Do you think there will be the day when the Mafia doesn’t exist?
I don’t think it’s possible as long as Capitalism exists with its present rules. There is a paradox in European countries. European Union countries try to block out the immigrants into our countries. The problem seems to be the frontier and those movements of human beings. It does not block the flaw of criminal earnings from drug trafficking and not only that but criminal activities in general. There is no rule to control the constant proceedings from drug traffic. El Chapo Guzman had his money in Switzerland, of course, but also in Europe. According to a survey in Columbia, which is recalled in my book Zero Zero Zero, 90% of the earnings coming from drug traffic are then washed in Europe within the European borders.
Do you ever think you couldn’t do this? Could you have imagined it was so risky when you started writing Gomorrah?
No, I couldn’t imagine the risk I was running when I wrote Gomorrah. I know this is not brave to say so but this is honest. Had I known then I’d be more cautious because it wasn’t worth it. Everyone has a right to defend and protect himself, to defend his life and the life of those close to us. Probably I was a bit unaware of what I was doing back then. I was always writing and doing something that goes beyond the world of the criminal economy. In the last few months, I have been very much concerned by the problems of immigrants and migrations and the NGOs that are trying to save them from the Mediterranean Sea and I would have so many things to tell you about Russia.
Photo: Gerhard Kassner/Berlinale
Piranhas (La paranza dei bambini) does not have a UK release date yet. Read our review here.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.