On the surface, Hleb Papous’ film bears many similarities to 2020’s vaunted Les Miserables. The Legionnaire (Il Legionario) is similarly concerned with tensions between immigrant communities and the police, with sympathies divided and all reaching boiling point in an explosive third act. Here, however, both worlds are represented in the same family. Daniel (Germano Gentile) and Patrick (Maurizio Bousso) are second-generation Italians, their African parents living in a condemned building in one of Rome’s impoverished quarters. Daniel is the only African-Italian officer in his police battalion, and his next assignment is the mass eviction; Patrick finds his voice organising for his community’s right to occupancy and housing. As protests erupt, the brothers find themselves at odds, yet constantly aiding the other.

Despite the stakes, Gentile and Bousso are given ample time to play into the levity of family relations as they are into the moral drama – a move that highlights the humanity of both individuals despite their circumstances. But The Legionnaire quickly spreads its focus outwards, illuminating an entire world living hand-to-mouth in the ancient capital. Activism and direct action are captured in striking vignettes: a protest complete with spoken word poetry and acoustic sets soon cuts to the squatters left without power as the city tries to drive them away. A priest arrives, but instead of offering spiritual solace he quickly and easily reinstates power to the complex. He was an electrician in a former life, and this unshowy, practical kindness becomes a small victory for human dignity. 

The Legionnaire does not feel rushed as a result of its expanded viewpoint; on the contrary, stepping into the community lends depth, nuance, and substance to Daniel’s and Patrick’s disparate, yet equally sincere, attempts to find peace and security. But celebrating individual efforts just doesn’t engage with systemic change. 



CAST: Germano Gentile, Maurizio Bousso, Marco Falaguasta, Félicité Mbezelé

DIRECTOR: Hleb Papou

WRITERS: Giuseppe Brigante, Emanuele Mochi, Hleb Papou

SYNOPSIS: Daniel, the only African-Italian officer tasked with a raid on a block of squatters, is also the only member of the force faced with evicting his own family.