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The Rebellious Voice Of The Women From Southern Italy.  A Glance On ‘Ndrangheta Laws Through The Italian Films “Una Femmina – The Code of Silence” by Francesco Costabile and “A Chiara” by Jonas Carpig

“Una Femmina – The Code of Silence” is the first feature film by Francesco Costabile presented last February in the Panorama Section of the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival 2022 and inspired by the report “Fimmine Ribelli. How women will save the country from ‘Ndrangheta”. The importance of this film lies in the director’s responsibility to describe the submerged universe of the Calabrian organized crime ‘Ndrangheta going deeper into one of the most controversial topics in Italian history: the Italian mob. Francesco Costabile states that this film starts from the Calabrian hinterland, which has marked his life and the life of several women too, to recreate the emotional universe of the film. Even if the theme is violent and dramatic, this film is an act of love towards all the women tired of being silent. The director managed to create a connection with the traumatic experience of women making tangible their impotence.


The key model of the story is Denise Cosco, an ‘Ndrangheta victim and daughter of Lea Garofolo, who vanished without leaving any trace. The film transfigures reality and works on the unconscious emotional part of the protagonist (Rosa) and her trauma. The lack of well-defined geographical points is the measure of segregation and the labyrinth that Rosa can’t escape from. In general, the stories of women from the Calabria region are strongly linked to deep isolation; they are women who grow up in a highly peripheral family where the psychological cage is felt. The 'Ndrangheta makes strength on an archetypal structure of the family and an isolated context where the culture must not arrive. However, the voices of these women have begun to rise through the internet and social media. The authenticity of the woman’s condition is evoked by the protagonist (Lina Siciliano), who has a complicated past. She is a wounded soul with the rage that flows in her veins mainly because her uncle and grandmother take away her future, forcing her to sell the garden’s fruits to the older women of the neighboring countries. Still, she is determined to go deeper into her mother’s unexpected death. She wants to fight at any cost to survive and self-determine.

The innovation of the story involves crime from the female point of view. Rosa dares to break her blood ties and the ‘Ndrangheta codes. Oppression and domestic extortion are the main elements of Rosa’s world, but she is stronger than the physical and psychological violence she repeatedly receives from her uncle-master and grandmother.


The Calabria region is a place that historically has always defended itself against the Mafia remaining pure and undisturbed and becoming stronger than the Sicilian Mafia. Calabrian clans are spread on every continent. They infiltrate the social system thanks to their excellent organization and the “sinking strategy,” which consists of limiting ambushes and crimes and penetrating several Italian regions thanks to a secret network of unsuspected such as magistrates, journalists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and law enforcement officers.

‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek noun andragathòs, which translates into strength, virility, and value. It has a rigid structure based on the blood bond of the natural family. It is also common for some families to create matrimonial ties driven by economic reasons. It reflects the traditional patriarchal structure of the Calabrian land. The religious symbolism of the affirmation ritual consists of piercing the index finger with a knife and dropping a few drops of blood on the image of Saint Michael the Archangel, protector of ‘Ndrangheta, who will then be set on fire. This ritual is reserved for male children, while the female daughter is neglected. Therefore, the role of women is strictly educational. Education is based on honor, silence, respect, and revenge. ‘Ndrangheta cares about the next generation creating links and collusions for future investments. They strengthen relationships and alliances to leave a heritage to their successors when they die. Its power is impressive. 

In particular, ‘Ndrangheta is based on the culture of criminal memory in which the woman is the custodian with the task of handing it down. However, women have a secondary function compared to the activities carried out by their men. They are kept apart but at the same time maintain the silence and keep alive the breeding ground of revenge to be accomplished. However, can these women be considered as guilty as their husbands? Women can’t be imputable because they don’t have a specific role within the Mafia structure, but they are participants. Women are condemned to a life of chastity and absolute fidelity to their men. They are instruments of husbands in prison who can’t physically control the traffics, so women become emissaries. Women don’t choose ‘Ndrangheta, but they inherit itWhite widows are held by men and tied to chains from which it is difficult to free. They must avoid remarriage and lead a retired life to preserve the excellent reputation of the deceased. 


Another film that perfectly depicts the ‘Ndrangheta influence on the educational path of a young girl in the Calabria region is “A Chiara,” directed by Jonas Carpignano, presented at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs section and winner of the Europa Cinemas Label prize 2021. Chiara is a teenager who discovers that her beloved father is a fugitive because he has been accused of conspiracy for drug trafficking. Since that moment, her universe is about to collapse. Unlike all the other women in the family, she investigates why her father left the family without notice. Moreover, the closer she gets to the truth, the more she thinks about what kind of future she wants for herself. Thus, Chiara is a young, stubborn, and strong-willed woman who sets out to find her path between silence from her mother and her older sister and the willingness to discover the illegal trafficking underworld in which her father is involved, conquering her place in the world and, above all, freedom. 


The audience assists in Chiara’s complicated growth and painful change. Therefore, she interrupts a mafia system where women are not allowed to enter, and consequently, she is forced to leave the Calabria region. Within this framework, the local institutions separate Chiara from her family to give her a better future in another region and household.

The film offers an open and problematic reading of the solutions that the intervention of the State produces in similar situations. But is this the only way to ensure a life with more freedom and possibilities? In my opinion, Italian law should understand and work in that context without taking away from families the children of the mafia to prevent them from entering the vicious circle of crime. However, it would take years or even decades for a radical change toward legality.

The filmmaker doesn’t give answers or judgments; he only leaves Chiara’s gaze penetrating the viewer, who goes home more aware of the sacrifices of a southern Italy girl.

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Tags: #mafia #'ndrangheta #southernitaly #thevoiceofwomen


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