🇮🇹 Suburra: Blood on Rome 🇮🇹
🇮🇹 SUBURRA: BLOOD ON ROME aka Suburra – La serie (2017-2020) is an Italian Netflix Original show. Action, crime, drama. 3 seasons of 8, 8 and 6 episodes (22 total) each 42min-1hr Age Cert 15 U.K. Available in Italian with subtitles and dubbing.
“Inspired by a real-life political scandal, “Suburra: Blood on Rome” features a fight over development land in a coastal town near Rome. The church, political figures, members of organized crime, local gangs and real estate developers all collide in the battle, with the lines between the legal and the illicit being blurred. The various entities involved are all on a quest for power, but not everyone can achieve that goal. The series is based on a book of the same name.”
Alessandro Borghi as Aureliano Adami
Giacomo Ferrera as Alberto “Spadino” Anacleti
Filippo Nigro as Amedeo Cinaglia
Carlotta Antonelli as Angelica Sale
Federica Sabatini as Nadia Gravone
Paola Sotgiu as Adelaide Anacleti
Francesco Acquaroli as Samurai
Alessandro Bernardini as Saverio Guerri
Claudia Gerini as Sara Monaschi
Mirella Sarachelli as Donna Anacleti
Eduardo Valdarnini as Gabriele “Lele” Marchilli
Adamo Dionisi as Manfredi Anacleti
Rosa Diletta Rossi as Alice
Emmanuele Aita as Ferdinando Badali
Barbara Chichiarelli as Livia Adami
Directors: Andrea Molaioli, Arnaldo Catinari, Guiseppe Capotondi, Piero Messina, Michele Placido
Writers: Ezio Abbate, Fabrizio Bettelli, Carlo Bonini, Camilla Buizza, Danielo Cesarano, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Nicola Guaglianone, Andrea Nobile, Barbara Petronio, Marco Sani,
Cinematographer: Arnaldo Catinari
Music: Scott Morgan
Suburra: Blood on Rome was the first Italian Netflix Original series. It was produced by Cattleya in association with Rai Fiction and Bartleby Film. Rai Fiction was not involved in the production of the third and final season.
Suburra is a 2015 Italian neo-noir crime film directed by Stefano Sollima based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Carlo Bonini and Giancarlo De Cataldo. Suburra: Blood on Rome is a spin off from this movie and some of the cast are in both (Alessandro Borghi as Numero 8, Giacomo Ferrera, Adamo Dionisi).
“Suburra” was the area of the city of Rome which in ancient times was a crowded, lower-class area notorious as a red-light district. More about it here:
The series draws on the real life Mafia Capitale investigation. Link to more about this:
The composer Scott Morgan is also known for his work on the soundtrack of such productions as Divergent and The Terror.
Rome, Lazio, Italy
La Veccia Pineta, Lido di Ostia, Lazio, Italy for the Adami family’s beach
Lungomare Ugo Tognazzi, Torvaianica, Lazio, Italy for the Adami family’s house
Episode titles: Each episode has its own specific title, those are there for a reason.
⚠️ This is a spoiler review ⚠️
Why oh why did it take me so long to watch Suburra: Blood on Rome? This is a question that I started to ask myself 2 episodes into the first season and am still pondering having watched the entire show. Perhaps it was because I had seen the film, or because as a big fan of Gomorrah I thought this “little brother” set in Rome would not match up or that, with so many other offerings, I just didn’t find the time… I doubt I will ever work out exactly why but, my goodness, I am so pleased I did finally watch this, because it is both captivating and stunning! In this review I will try to capture what I feel are the essential aspects of this production which make it so enthralling, impactful and deeply affecting.
Whilst the story in Suburra: Blood on Rome is often complex and has a lot of players and moving parts, what with the politicians, the Church, the Mafia, the rival Roman gangs of the Adamis and Anacletis (a Gypsy clan) and just occasionally the police) it is the characters who are the mainstay of the show. And when I say characters I do mean the “ragazzi” Aureliano, Spadino and Lele who are central to how this story plays out and with whom we become so highly invested. These three young men are engaged in a very dangerous “game” where the outcome if you get it wrong (or even have bad luck) is often literally fatal. So let us look at each of these in turn…
Aureliano Adami, when we first meet him, is a bleach-blond, vicious, snarky, uncontrolled, volatile, deeply sad and lonely man-child with the appearance of one of Botticelli’s angels. He is still in many ways the little boy who “killed” his mother when she gave birth to him and subsequently rejected by his father. He hates his father while desperately desiring his approval and love. His older sister, Livia, is an important figure in his life and neither she, nor his father believe him capable of having anything to do with the family “business”. (Livia too is damaged by her history and has an over-protective and perverse love for her little brother Aureliano).
Aureliano definitely has father-mother-sister and self-esteem issues. Some describe him as a psychopath, he is not but he is violent and dangerous, especially when cornered or when his loved ones are under threat.
Aureliano’s motivations are to show everyone that he is in fact more than capable, to be successful, to love and be loved and needed. He is determined, stubborn, focused, devious, clever, often ruthless, protective of and loyal to those he loves and yet… naive.
The dog in season 1 epitomises everything about him at this point in his character development. He loves and loses fiercely and has an immense capacity to carry on no matter what the odds. Ultimately Aureliano comes to believe that he is cursed and that everyone he touches (loves) dies.
His change of appearance between the end of season 1 and the start of season 2 is shocking and highly symbolic. Gone are the cherubic blond curls to be replaced by a dark, far more severe hair style, a beard and wings tattooed the length of each side of his neck. (At this point it is worth mentioning his tattoos because they are all symbolic). The murder of someone you love will do that to you. In this case we have the murder of Isabel, his first true love and later the murder of his sister, Livia (at a point where he has displayed one of his other traits which is to forgive those he loves or reveres). When asked by Spadino in the final season how he has coped with these losses he confesses that he never really has got over them and has not been the same since.
Ultimately it is Aureliano’s unflinching loyalty and willingness to put his life on the line for someone he loves deeply that proves to be tragically fatal. He could have become “King of Rome”.
Spadino is the younger son of the Sinti (“Gypsy”) Anacleti clan, who happens to be gay. Perhaps in other families and other situations his homosexuality would be unimportant but here, in this family, in this culture it is a HUGE issue. We see him cruising the streets for male prostitutes although he clearly wants, needs and deserves real love. In truth we begin to see what the oblivious Aureliano cannot, that Spadino is in love with him, and not as a brother – more on this later. Eventually of course Spadino plucks up the courage to kiss Aureliano (in excitement)… it doesn’t go down well… but…
Spadino is a crazy, funny and fun, often over the top colourful figure. He LOVES to dance and does so whenever the opportunity arises. In truth he often seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself even in situations which are not normally “fun”. One of the great aspects is that he loves to cook and eat and it is through cooking and eating with Aureliano that we often see the young guys having fun.
Spadino loves life, and is absolutely over the moon at the prospect of becoming a father. He respects, even loves, his wife but simply cannot love her in the way that he absolutely adores Aureliano. However Spadino is also, upon occasion, a volatile, vicious little thug. He too is somewhat naive playing this perilous game but so long as it does not involve direct family he can be ruthless.
Finally, let us turn our attention to poor Lele. Here we have another young man without a mother and it is no coincidence that when we first meet him he is having an affair with a much older and more experienced woman. Lele is intelligent but gets himself embroiled in a very dangerous game. For me Lele is the ordinary guy who in defiance of his police officer father, who he despises and rejects) gets far, far out of his depth. He finally realises that he has lost his moral compass and essentially (unlike Aureliano and Spadino) cannot live with himself or his overwhelming guilt. He is loyal to his friends but is the character who is most frequently put in a lose-lose situation, and boy, Lele loses a lot! Lele committing suicide is as shocking to the viewer as to Aureliano and Spadino, and it is this action which powers the revenge and “showing them” of the final season.
Turning to other characters in the story of Suburra: Blood on Rome
Samurai (the perfect nickname) is a man with a militant, terrorist neo-Fascist past, who possesses the dirt on everyone who is anyone and is the facilitator of what the Mafia want as they move in to dabble in Rome. The head of Rome’s organised crime Samurai is quietly unassuming, drives around on a “old man’s” motorbike and is as deadly as a shark. He is capable of extreme violence when it is necessary, but usually gets someone else to do the dirty deeds. He knows how to play, entrap and manipulate people. As the show progresses you realise that, perhaps, he too will become a victim. He is so against Aureliano (especially) and Spadino because they are upsetting the status quo and threaten him and his clients. He is loathsome and his death is suitably terrible but even here we see the little boy he once was.
Amedeo Cinaglia, now what can we say about this politician who thinks he has morals and is doing things for the good of others to start with? It is very clear as the show progresses that he is, and always has been, desirous of nothing but personal power and influence. He is willing to commit cold blooded murder and betrayal to further no one but himself. People may think that Aureliano is a psychopath, but here is a real psychopath. He has no moral compass, no loyalty, no real love and only measures anything against what it means to him. I for one really wish the boys had taken longer to eat their pasta and he had died in his fancy new sauna!
Sara Monaschi is another interesting and complex character. When we meet her she is a Vatican financial advisor and auditor for lands in Ostia. She does seem to genuinely care for Lele but again she is proved to be cold and ruthless when she needs to be. Her collaboration with the three boys shows how clever she is and how she is prepared to do anything to succeed. She is also able to adapt her ambitions, which is why she survives (by the skin of her teeth) to live another day. She disappears from the story in season 3 (some critics have criticised this) because her character’s story is no longer relevant.
We cannot leave the characters without taking a look at Angelica and Nadia. Both brilliantly portrayed and the perfect foils to Spadino and Aureliano. They are clever, confident, resourceful, loyal to their partners and ultimately each other. Neither is afraid to speak their mind and to wear their heart on their sleeve.
Angelica does want power (for her daughter) a power not usually openly wielded by women in her Sinti culture. She finds it impossible to put out of her mind that her husband cannot ever love her in the way he loves Aureliano and the jealousy this arouses is irreparable. The betrayal by her father must have cut her deeply. She was never more than a pawn in his game, it seems.
Nadia is another product of a dysfunctional family. She is the girl that should have been a boy as far as her father is concerned and this is reflected in her “Tomboyish” costuming. She loves (at first sight I would say) and believes in Aureliano unreservedly. It is she who helps push him forwards when he is “stuck”. It is not an overstatement to say that she is completely devastated by his death.
I have not forgotten the Anacleti clan, more of them later but suffice to say the murder of a cousin by Aureliano is a main point in episode 1 and it is back to the clan that we return for the final denouement.
The main theme of Suburra: Blood on Rome is love. We have the love that Aureliano has for the women in his life and the love that Spadino has for Aureliano, sibling love, deep romantic love, fraternal love (not brothers by blood relationship necessarily). Spadino too looks for and craves love, paternal love, romantic love… in truth Aureliano is the love of his life. Lele too desires love and to be loved. The most devastating scenes we see are when loved ones are caught in the “crossfire”. We see love both distorted and pure. All are capable of love unlike some of the other characters we encounter.
In Suburra: Blood on Rome loyalty is deeply interwoven with love and at times we see a blurring of lines. Allegiances are formed and break apart, rarely without sure consequences. What is so heartbreaking about this show is that it is made very clear that loyalty is not always rewarded and that the loyal frequently end up dead. It should be no surprise then that this all ends so very badly but despite everything we have seen so far we desperately hope that things will turn out well. It is this very real jeopardy for characters (just look at the body count nearing the end of season 3) that makes it such an intense, emotional watch. Watching Suburra in the final season is similar to watching an inevitable car crash happen…
The absence of a parent. Families (who’d have them?) whether they be blood relatives or other acquired “family” the dynamics, power struggles, expectations and experiences really pile up to create issues. You can see exactly why someone like Samurai tries to keep no one close (except his mother… who is “interesting”) preferring to spend his time with his horses (harking back to his childhood).
It is Spadino’s family that causes him issues. We realise that he is another character missing a parent, in this case his father. His mother who reminded me of a toad is not the loving, supportive maternal type, but she loves to be the matriarch! His brother, Manfredi (brilliantly played by Adamo Dionisi as in the movie) is a lascivious, vicious creep with a dress-sense all of his own. (Just to add that his recovery from his injuries and coma was so well done, no leaping out of bed as if nothing much has happened in this show!) These major family issues of Spadino’s ultimately prove cataclysmic.
We see that Aureliano and Livia, Spadino and Manfredi, Lele, Samurai, Cinaglia, Nadia all have an absent/dead parent.
Power! You will hear the word “potere” used a LOT in Suburra: Blood on Rome. In Italian “potere” carries the meaning of “might”, “sway”, “influence” and authority. From the Church to Samurai, from the Mafia to the clans and gangs onwards to the politicians, we see everyone jostling and manoeuvring for position in a deadly game of Risk. Wealth is power, knowledge is power and all power corrupts.
The direction in Suburra is fantastic and combined with the beautiful cinematography make for something very special visually. The different colour palettes used, for example by the beach or in the Sinti house, are perfect. Establishing shots are really well-chosen. The locations become other characters in this tale for example the beach and the shack that mean so much to the motherless child Aureliano.
Rome too is very much another character, not just a few shots of well known sites but the deep heart, veins and other vital organs of the Eternal City in all its wondrous and corrupt glory. Interiors are also really evocative and decorated reflecting who a character is at any point in time. Again Aureliano’s “homes” mirror most closely to who and what he is. The pacing of this show is also excellent.
The device of showing what happens and then going back in time to show what has lead to this is very effective indeed. Often i would think “How the Hell did they end up here?!” The ebbs and flows of intensity through this story are so well handled.
I loved the way that the hot springs scene tells us everything we need to know about how Spadino feels about Aureliano (he is in love with him) without a word being said. This is great “show not tell”. This whole scene is beautifully lit and underplayed.
One thing Suburra: Blood on Rome does really well is balance the darkness and tension in this story (and boy does it have both of these!) with humour and unabashed fun. The hilarious choosing the baby’s crib scene (where the salesman looks terrified but “the boys” are having such a fun time) followed by the shot of them driving along with the frankly hideous choice for the Golden Child will stay with me forever. Behind the scenes videos show exactly how much dedicated hard work but also how much fun was involved in the making of this. That “family” isn’t only what we see in the end result on the screen.
There are some amazing action scenes in this show. Massive kudos for the special effects and stunt work in this (both the stunt team and those performers such as Alessandro Borghi who did most of his own stunts). So many gun fights and these do not peter-out!
Aureliano’s costume and hair changes radically between season 1 and season 2 but then stays consistent. He is dressed in practical, black or grey with sturdy footwear (ideal for running and kicking). It is no coincidence that this darkness is never broken. The sunglasses he wears are not only stylish but also make a statement and hide his eyes. Aside from having a firearm the other main “prop” for our guy is his car, again a perfect choice, I mean, just look at it. Some of the darkest and brightest times happen in this vehicle.
Spadino wears bright and/or highly patterned stereotypical “Gypsy” clothing, jewellery and keeps the same Mohican hairstyle throughout the series. His clothing is also a direct reflection of who he is. He is colourful, mostly optimistic and (for a small guy) larger than life. As for Spadino’s car it is the perfect choice for the wild, brash, crazy young man that he is.
Lele’s costuming is the most normal, in a way as boring as Samurai’s. It reflects exactly who Lele is. There is nothing extraordinary about his hairstyle either… Poor Lele even gets the vehicle that suits his character, the cheap runaround that’s easy to park and very… well… ordinary.
The music score and soundtrack in Suburra are immense! The score is not only haunting but is very effective at evoking emotion and memory and increasing the threat level. Not so much in a “listen incidental music” way but in a “working on your experience with that theme already” way. The rap is perfect (though Netflix please get the subtitles up for the lyrics in season 3 please!) regardless of whether you personally like the genre or not. I like the simple opening credits sequence with the black Roman cobbles, perfectly ancient, menacing and grimy.
Make no mistake Suburra is a violent show with some eye-watering language including racial and homophobic slurs. In this respect it fulfils one major requirement in that it feels real, authentic. It is a show with a great deal of heart, passion and honesty which show through in all aspects of the production but especially in the performances.
Alessandro Borghi is a charismatic actor and is phenomenal here as Aureliano showing expansive range in his performance including the most subtle of micro expressions. The camera “loves” him. As Spadino, Giacomo Ferrara also excels with incredible energy which radiates on the screen. Together these actors have great chemistry and capture the true essence of the characters that they play. Eduardo Valdarnini as Lele has a less expansive role but shows his acting chops in this. All the other players are rock solid without a single weak link. If you don’t want terrible things to happen to Cinaglia, Samurai and Manfredi (picking out just three) then the skill of the writers and these actors has passed you by.
“Why is it enjoyable to read sad stories? There are many possible explanations, but I think one factor is that in a tragic story, sorrow is made into a meaningful pattern, even into something beautiful.” (Prof. Laura Ashe quoted in Univ. Oxford “Did Love Begin in the Middle Ages” C. Pluming)
While the above quote is about reading I feel it is perfect for a TV show like Suburra which is tragically sad. I became so invested in the characters of Aureliano and Spadino and those in their immediate orbit that I watched the final two episodes with my heart in my mouth and my hands shaking. Such intensity, so twisty, completely unpredictable and full of jeopardy that it was almost unbearable. But like any good story we have to know how it ends, right?
Suburra: Blood on Rome is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. It left me as devastated as the remaining characters and yet haunted by the sheer tragic beauty of it all.
“We messed up, didn’t we.”
Trailer S3 with subtitles: