Feb 20, 2007


One of the best movies of the year is Mafioso, actually an Italian film from 1962, directed by Alberto Lattuada and starring the one and only Alberto Sordi as a Sicilian engineer who works in Milan and who goes back to his one horse town in Sicily on vacation with his wife and daughters. Like all the great Italian social comedies, this one is a dark and very funny look at the local customs of a town where Don Vittorio, capo di tutti capi, rules like a God, deciding who lives, who dies, who kills and who is ostracized. It's all about the culture clash between the liberal, civilized, industrialized Italy from the continent, and the impoverished and backward islanders.
The joy is in the details: the gargantuan meals (I'm booking my trip right now), the hirsute sister, complete with moustache, beard and sideburns, who has never heard of waxing, the forbidding mamma, the sexually frustrated machos who make sand sculptures of naked females on the beach, the wrinkly relatives without teeth. Through it all, the divine Alberto Sordi displays an infectious amount of joie de vivre; the most endearing form of denial ever seen on a screen. However, even he, who has left Sicily to become a modern man, is still beholden to Don Vittorio and he needs to repay the favor.
There is no brutality and only one act of violence in the film. All you see are the consequences of the social system. The Catholic church turns a blind eye and prays on the superstitious and ignorant people, almost every house sports a plaque commemorating a dead son or a daughter, people know what you are going to do long before you know it yourself, and even your own father is willing to put you in harm's way because he owes everything to Don Vittorio. Anything you get from his supposed magnanimity will come back to haunt you later. As is customary in this great Italian genre, you laugh until you stop laughing. At the end, a happy, cheerful man is reversed into an animal, tainted, alienated from his family, forever corrupted, his eyes drained of all joy. Mafioso is somehow more brutal and more incisive than many of the movies of the genre that followed its trailblazing path with tons of blood and gunfire. It does not, like The Godfather or The Sopranos, mythologize the Mafia, it exposes it for the social rot it is. A fantastic film.

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