Which street does the Bronx begin on?

To home page

to the archive

In the streets of the Bronx




So now he too. Robert De Niro has also switched to the other side. Why? "I wanted to make my own mistake," he replied coquettishly to relevant questions. At the Munich Film Festival. At some point the time has come, the role change is due. They want to show how things can be done differently No wonder, since De Niro is moving on familiar, safe terrain on his directorial debut.


A personal genre film. IN THE STREETS OF THE BRONX begins in the dark of night and with a poetic declaration of love for the district whose name is now generally considered a synonym for the earthly forecourt of hell. In the cinematic way back then, around 1960, the Bronx is still a warm and lively neighborhood, certainly not innocent, but beyond all violence and corruption a refuge of almost southern street life and neighborly communication.


A house, a street, an intersection: that is roughly the topography of De Niro's Little Italy. The residents, at least those of importance, are also quickly introduced. Characters as concise as their names: Tony Toupee, Frankie Coffeecake, Jojo the Whale.


The little boy, who watches life from the steps of his parents' house not far from that intersection, is fascinated by the hustle and bustle of the men on the street. Above all, it is one who impresses him. "Sonny", god and lonely ruler in this small world. Casual, self-assured, sovereign. Long, long, Calogero stares at him in silence from these steps. At some point the time has come. The boy can prove his reliability - and Sonny becomes take little Calogero under his wing, as an assistant, as a student, as a friend, as a son.


Then later, when Calogero is 17, morals have become harsher and conditions tougher. Harbingers of the outside world break into the local idyll: rocker terror, blacks settle in the neighborhood. And Calogero falls in love - with a self-confident and beautiful dark-skinned classmate. A miracle from a girl, a woman almost who is far superior to him and all the other cool-playing boys: in sovereignty, in dignity, courage, maturity. This love story is told very nicely, and the film manages the rare trick of addressing everyday racism and escalating racist violence on the occasion of this love and its realization difficulties, without having to resort to platitudes like "My son does not marry a negress".


This sensitivity is also astonishing because A BRONX TALE is a conservative film that draws its cohesion primarily from an extremely American theme: the struggle for paternal authority. There are two fathers here: There is Lorenzo Agnello, Calogero's biological father (De Niro's second father role after THIS BOY'S LIFE), an honest bus driver with the dream of an honest life - and Sonny, the "wise guy", who plays the game of power The competition between the two men, who embody two sides of the same American dream, is sensitively staged (Lorenzo's motto that there is nothing worse than wasted talent, Sonny would certainly be just as good on Sonny).


A BRONX TALE is an actor film in the best sense of the word. Excellent cast down to the smallest supporting roles. Many of the actors are debutants, including Lillo Brancato, who plays the older Calogero and looks exactly as we would like to imagine seventeen-year-old De Niro. A courageous move in age to leave the field to the next generation so selflessly. Even more courageous, however, and that deserves credit for the director and actor De Niro, to leave the second leading role to an actor who seriously questions his own presence. Screenwriter Chazz Palminteri, obviously an all-rounder who has turned his own stage play into the script, gives the "Sonny" himself and does it with such presence and precision that De Niros Lorenzo - probably against the intentions of the script - almost really degenerates into a weakling , which he certainly shouldn't be, because Sonny, the man whose first major act in this film is to shoot a man in cold blood and apparently senseless (we'll never find out why), the Sonny who makes fun of him an all too brutal brawl ruined the appetite for lunch, this Sonny won our admiration, even friendship, in the course of time. Because this man is a clever patriarch. A friendly Machiavellian. One who is smarter than the men around him and isn't seems to have to rely on blind violence. A good father. The fact that the violence sometimes gets away with him only makes the figure all the more lively. Un d even if the two fathers are reconciled at the end, when Sonny is dead and Lorenzo survives, then it seems to be Sonny whose wisdom remains in our memories.


Obviously, De Niro's film is an homage to Master Scorsese, the late one, especially to his mafia epic GOODFELLAS. De Niro does not need to deny this influence, he confidently leans on the model in narrative style, camera, content and some details. Similar to Scorsese, De Niro lets his story break ironically in the voiceover of seventeen-year-old Calogero. Evokes the mood of the sixties with ample musical interludes. Paints the "golden years" of New York in colors of pastel nostalgia. However, this is shot, and certainly to the advantage, not in the studio but rather on locality - not in the Bronx, but in Brooklyn.


A BRONX TALE is a deeply patriarchal, a wonderfully nostalgic and a beautiful film. One in which, with reflected vision, one can learn a lot about the functioning of father figures. And a very Catholic film: in the abundance of its richness of images, its sensuality, its morality. And in the fact that he can gallantly overlook this morality and is ready to accept weaknesses and dishonesty with a slight smile. The young Calogero's first public act, a false testimony to the police, was such a good bad act, "a good deed for a bad man," as Father Lorenzo calls it. Calogero expresses his relief after the liberating confession (five Our Fathers and three rosaries) like this: "You can start over every week."


Silvia Hallensleben


This review first appeared in: epd film





USA 1993. D: Robert De Niro. B: Chazz Palminteri. P: Jane Rosenthal, Jon Kilik, Robert De Niro. K: Reynaldo Villalohos. Sch: David Ray, R.D. Lovett. M: Butch Barbella. T: Death Maitland. A: Wynn Thomas, Chris Shriver. Ko: Rita Ryack. Pg: Tribeca. V: Tobis. L: 122 min. St: 23.7.1994. D: Robert De Niro (Lorenzo), Chazz Palminteri (Sonny), Lillo Braneato (Calogero, 17 years), Francis Capra (Calogero, 9 years), Katharine Narducci IRosinah Taral Hicks (Jane), Clem Caserta (Jimmy Whispers), Alfred Sauchelli Jr. (Bobby Black), Joe Pesci (Carmine).


To home page

to the archive