A solid debut feature about masculinity, friendship, and a violent subculture, brought to life by a well-chosen ensemble.
The timing either couldn’t be better or couldn’t be worse for Francesco Lettieri’s debut feature Ultras (Netflix), a solid drama about hooliganism in Italy released when the entirety of Italy is locked down during a pandemic. The parallels between a viral outbreak and the sinister strain of football violence that blights the beautiful game are probably a bit too obvious and a bit too insensitive to run with — but they’re there, nonetheless, and give this decent if restrictive film a frisson of topicality that it might not have had otherwise.
While an opening disclaimer makes things clear that Ultras is a work of fiction, its undercurrent of neo-fascist football violence is rooted in reality. Coming not long after Puerta 7, there’s an argument to be made that Netflix is now the go-to place for stories of chest-puffing macho posturing and the pointless, potentially fatal rivalries that emerge from these barmy subcultures.
The themes you’d expect are present and correct here; an older man, Sandro (Aniello Arena), aging out of the game that most of his Napoli FC peers are already banned from. Sandro has a protege of sorts in Angelo (Ciro Nacca), whose brother died during a historical clash with rivals, and a love interest in Terry (Antonia Truppo) — both are enough to make him drift away from the deeply-held values of the firm. There’s a generational fracture as the younger members, conned by the camaraderie of the whole affair, reject the wisdom of the elder statesmen. And so on, and so forth.
None of this feels new or particularly insightful, which is the blemish on Ultras, as is the potentially alienating depth with which it submerges in a subculture that’s off-putting at the best of times. But the film doesn’t reflect the immaturity of its subject in its craft, even if it can’t quite escape it entirely.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.