Piranhas: Innocence Lost – successors of Naples’ mafia families

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Media Screening
Feautre Film (Italy)
Duration: 110 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The story charts the controversial rise of a gang of Neapolitan youngsters – known as the paranza – who were originally recruited to act as hitmen by the Camorra.   Fifteen years old fearless boys with innocent nicknames, branded shoes, normal families, names of girlfriends tattooed on their skin, no trust in school or institutions.   Teenagers with no tomorrow, no hope, not afraid of jail nor death.   Their only chance is to bet on everything they possess right now.  If they want money, they need to go out and get it. They go off on their scooters, take over the drug market, shoot satellite antennas, defy the godfathers of Naples, spread terror and fear in the city’s streets.
These power-hungry adolescents are as trigger happy with a real AK-47 as they are on their PlayStations.  Paranza is a term that belongs to the sea: fishing boats with lights tricking small fishes with no hope to survive. This is a tale of kids darting through life, through adolescences  “tricked by light” as a paranza.
Saviano enters relentlessly in this reality of today, opening and shading light over it with a wonderful tale of innocence and subjugation.

La Paranza dei Bambini (Piranhas) is Claudio Giovannesi’s film adapttation of Robert Saviano Gomorrah’s bestseller.  Ambitious, charismatic 15-year-old Nicola and his mates go from being petty thieves to gun-toting gangsters virtually overnight.

As the gangs’ older generations are locked away in prison, the gangsters become younger and younger. The baby-faced protagonists struggle with family, peer pressure and romance, all while swaggering haplessly into a bloody war to control their streets.   With almost anthropological detail about the boys’ lives, fashions and tragically macho rituals, the film nods at genre classics like City of God and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets, while staking out its own complex, thrilling territory.


Nicola and his friends are fifteen years old. They want to make money, buy cool clothes and brand new scooters. They play with weapons and ride around the city to take power in the district of Sanità. With the illusion of bringing justice to the neighborhood, they chase good through evil. They love each other like brothers, they don’t fear prison nor death, knowing their only chance is to risk everything, now. They experience war with the irresponsibility of adolescence, but their criminal activities soon lead them to the irreversible sacrifice of love and friendship.

La Paranza dei Bambini (Piranhas) tells of the relationship between adolescence and the criminal lifestyle: the impossibility of experiencing the more important feelings of adolescence, love and friendship, in a life of crime.  The film shows how a fifteen year old and his friends of the same age lose their innocence.  The decision by the protagonist, Nicola, to pursue a criminal lifestyle slowly becomes irreversible and all- consuming, requiring the sacrifice of his first love and of friendship.

la-paranza-1024x391Experiencing the basic feelings of adolescence in the context of a criminal lifestyle is not possible: the need to do so comes forcefully to the fore in the protagonist, but can no longer be satisfied.  Although the path to the underworld is not an innate desire in youngsters, arising as a consequence of widespread illegality, the film does not wish to represent a sociological point of view.  Claudio Giovannesi chooses the point of view of the youngsters, without judging them, and show their adolescent feelings in relation to the criminal lifestyle and the ambition of power: the narration of the criminal arc is always in relation to the story of their emotions, the friendships and loves that are destined to fail precisely because of the criminal lifestyle.


Despite the protagonists being fifteen years of age, they are forced into a daily relationship with death, viewing it as a very real possibility: they experience the ambition of conquest and choose war irresponsibly.   The youngster’s desire for power also hides the naive paradox, typical of their age, of wanting to do good through evil: the dream of a just power, the illusion of an ethical crime syndicate. Children kill fathers, replace them, and, in order to do so, are forced to shorten the time of their development, to sacrifice carelessness, to consider death or jail as very real and daily possibilities.



Claudio Giovannesi. / Douglas Kirkland

Is the mysterious world of modern mafia activity based on true events?

Although based on current events, the film is not intended to be a description of events that actually took place.

The aim is not to build a reconstruction of a specific time and event that took place in a particular neighbourhood, nor to tell the story of juvenile delinquency in the city of Naples.  Naples is only the setting, but the theme of the film is beyond the place of its staging: what is at the heart of our story is the protagonist’s age and how this relates to his irreversible choice of becoming a criminal.   An age of innocence in which we experience choosing what is good and what is evil.

These topics were at the heart of the work I did with my young actors while preparing the characters and the scenes.

The desires fueled by today’s consumer society: designer clothes, expensive watches, motorcycles, a table at a night club, bottles of champagne. The need for money, right away, to obtain them.   And the real possibility, at their fingertips, of earning that money by committing crimes, as well as the unawareness of the consequences.

This is the path of the characters: the unconscious desires, the euphoria, the crimes, the passing of the point of no return, the impossibility of turning back, the fall.

What was the main challenge in approaching such adult themes from the perspective of such a young cast?

piranhas_4.jpgThe characters construction was based on discussing these themes, on a collective reflection within the group of eight boys, emphasizing the characters’ feelings: friendship, first love, family relations.   How do you experience a criminal journey at the age of fifteen?  What are the renunciations?   The feelings considered pure, the bonds of brotherhood, a love that seems eternal and absolute, when they begin to lose themselves, to destroy themselves, to conflict with ambition, with the struggle for power? These were the thematic reflections I carried out with Francesco and the other boys during the preparation and shooting of the film.

Was the choice of location deliberate? As it helped moved the story along fittingly.

We chose to set the film in the district of Sanità and the Spanish Quarters, because Naples, unlike Rome or many other Italian cities, still retains a popular historic centre, which keeps its identity alive and has not yet been devoured by tourism, by the staging of folklore.  The district is is a character in its own right: the market, the crowd, the shops, the children belonging to a neighbourhood where they were born and raised.

Shooting lasted nine weeks and took place in sequence: on the first day of shooting we shot the beginning of the film and on the last day of shooting we shot the final scene.

None of the boys read the screenplay or the novel from which it was taken, because the boys had to live the experience of their characters, day after day, from beginning to end.

They didn’t have to know the consequences of their actions, they simply had to live them: living the birth of brotherhood, becoming a group, the meaning of war, the illusion of ambition, the conquest of power, the irreversible consequences of criminal actions, the loss of innocence, the impossibility of going back, of remaining carefree teenagers, living defeat.




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