Featuring: Cristiana Capotondi, Pif, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona
Director: Pierfrancesco ‘Pif’ Diliberto
Screenwriters: Michele Astori, Pif, Marco Martani
Movie Website: www.palacefilms.com.au/themafiakillsonlyinsummer/
Verdict: An unremarkable coming-of-age/love story distracts from the true concern of the film – the reign of terror of the Sicilian mafia from the 1970s to 1990s, and its impact on the people of Palermo.
This is Italian journalist, TV satirist and director Pierfrancesco “Pif” Diliberto’s first feature film, and it shows, playing out like an early draft in which the writer is discovering his true purpose as he goes along. Symptomatic of this directional uncertainty is a shifting tone, which is unsettling and perturbing.
Especially awkward tonally are the early stages, in which lead character Arturo (subsequently played in adulthood by Pif himself) is introduced in voiceover describing his conception in Palermo. Just as his father climaxes, a fearsome flurry of gunshots rings out courtesy of warring mafia in a nearby hideout; in an animation sequence, the sperm are seen to scatter in terror, except for a lone brave swimmer that is undeterred and successfully completes his mission. Inevitably reminiscent of early Woody, but not funny. Retrospectively, it is apparent that the scene prefigures a major focus of the film (remaining steadfast against the tyranny of the mafia) – but it only works figuratively and in retrospect, and that’s a problem.
Toddler Arturo is late to talk. His first word, uttered as he points to the local priest who has dropped in for a visit, is “mafioso.” The delight his parents might have anticipated is displaced by astonishment. Sounds funny, perhaps, but the cinema audience sat in silence. Another comedy fail, but more uncomfortable this time because the joke is try-hard, and more obvious. At least we know what to expect. Adjust expectations, stay open: this is to be an absurdist comedy – about the mafia! How is that going to work?
Well, it doesn’t. Not as a comedy. And it turns out that the absurdist elements are soon lost in the sound and fury of a battle for supremacy between a light-hearted and rather humdrum coming-of-age/love story and a far darker concern, which is really the true focus of the film – that is, the reign of terror of the Sicilian mafia from the 1970s to 1990s, and its impact on the people of Palermo.
Arturo’s story as he progresses through school, hopelessly in love with his classmate Flora, is interspersed with bombings and murders, apparently commonplace occurrences in the Palermo of this era. He answers an early calling as an aspiring journo, developing a keen interest in the political responses to the atrocities of the Cosa Nostro. When a kindly gent who buys him a pastry at the local bakery is murdered, his interest becomes personal.
Arturo and Flora meet again as adults, both now working in journalism. Their love story is a thread that runs through the film as a coherence device, but it’s a dull tale overall with a hurried resolution, and not worth the protracted telling. Far more involving is the emergence of two judges determined to bring the mafia to justice, and the public outrage at their assassinations. Suddenly, it seems, the people of Palermo, bullied for decades into cowering tolerance of the criminal cancer gnawing at their society, have found the heart to stand as one against their oppressors. Finally, the film finds its feet, but alas too late.
The closing tribute to the local heroes who took a stand – shots of actual photographs of those who lost their lives fighting the mafia during the years covered by the film – is dramatic and moving, and underscores that there was a powerful film to be made out of this material. Unfortunately, this is not it.
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