In Castel Volturno, a bleak area north of Naples, the buildings are crumbling and the beaches are strewn with garbage. The stretch of coastline is a vast wasteland, seemingly lawless, its residents forgotten about. Most see no hope but to turn to vice for survival. Drugs, prostitution and violence are an everyday constant
Trapped in this world is Maria (Pina Turco). She's wrapped up in one of the area's more horrific criminal enterprises: human trafficking. Maria is a lieutenant in an operation which sees her ferrying pregnant African prostitutes by boat to a shack where they will give birth and then hand over their newborn babies. Maria works for local crime boss Aunt Mari (played by Marina Confalone).
Maria does her job without comment - she participates in the horrible business as if she doesn't have a choice. Her only real companion in the world is her beloved pit-bull. But life gets complicated for Maria when she has an attack of consciousness and leads one of the prostitutes, who wants to keep her baby, to safety by helping her escape the clutches of Aunt Mari. This marks Maria as a traitor and she ends up hiding out downstream with a group of African prostitutes. Maria's treachery leads her to become a marked woman.
Things get even more troublesome when Maria, who believed that she could never bear a child, falls pregnant. She keeps this to herself for as long as possible, but Aunt Mari eventually becomes aware of the pregnancy and arranges for the baby to be sold. As the weeks progress, Maria battles against Aunt Mari in a quest for survival.
Directed by Edoardo De Angelis, The Vice of Hope is a gritty tale exploring a lawless society filled with desperate people who must commit desperate acts in order to survive. Much to do with the characters and plot is left unspoken - except for an opening sequence where we see her rescued from a river, presumably after meeting with foul play, how Maria ended up in the clutches of organised crime remains unsaid. Other details, such as how the women became enslaved in prostitution and child trafficking, and who buys the newborn babies, also passes without comment.
Pina Turco's performance as Maria is one of the film's highlights. She's a battle-scarred woman who eventually turns from lackey into something quite different - a woman determined to fight. Marina Confalone as Aunt Mari is another highlight, the elderly woman frightening as she yields her power over the community.
These performances play out against the desolate backdrop, where it seems forever cold and drizzly, the only brightness the neon lights blinking in the rain. The story remains as bleak as the backdrop. And while the vagueness of the plot lets the film down a little, what is said proves compelling.
The Vice of Hope (Il Vizio Della Speranza) is playing nationally as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2019.
Find information on session times, locations and tickets on the festival's official website.