Wildly funny till it is deeply poignant, Pierfrancesco Diliberto's directorial The Mafia Only Kills in Summer is a subtle political satire of the corrosive influence of organised crime in Italy, that still finds time for a bit of heart and a lot of humour. Essential viewing for audiences of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
Screenplay: Michele Astori, Pierfrancesco Diliberto, and Marco Martani.
Runtime: 90 minutes.
Cast: Pierfrancesco Diliberto, Cristiana Capotondi, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona.
Plot: Poor Arturo is very personally cursed by the plague that blights Palermo – the Mafia. While he owes his birth to a Mafia hit that occurs during his parent’s honeymoon, he is defeated at every turn as a boy and adult by the accidental meddling of the Mafia war against the government. Nursing a lifelong love of schoolmate Flora, Arturo despairs and comes to believe that no matter what he tries fate, and the Mafia, will keep them apart.
Festival Goers? See it. Highly recommended.
Viewed as part of the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.
Review: Don’t be put off by the fact that The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (La mafia uccide solo d'estate) has some of the worst opening titles you will ever see – this is one of the most hilarious foreign films you’ll see this year. The film is the directorial debut of Italian T.V. satirist Pierfrancesco Diliberto, who also stars as the lead character Arturo – a boy and then man accidentally persecuted and plagued through the unrelated criminal activities of the mafia in Palermo during the last thirty years. The smartest aspect of the film is the manner in which it suckers in audiences with an amusing, feel-good story about the development and love life of its main character – only to pivot into being a sneaky metaphor for Italy’s tangled, troubled relationship with organised crime over the same period of time. The blows land hard, mainly because they’re funny first and stinging second. There’s even brief contemplations of the role of the media, the ordinary person, and much deserved documentation of the heroes who have stood up to organised crime – usually at the cost of their lives.
Uniquely, the film opens with a heist which indirectly affects the conception of Arturo (a young Alex Bisconti) himself – in a cheekily animated fertilisation scene, which perhaps unintentionally mocks every health film high school students will have been forced to endure. Moving quickly to Arturo’s boyhood, the film spends most of its time illustrating the all-pervasive influence of the crime wars of the 1980s in Palermo, and their own unique intersection with the life of the main character. Falling in love with schoolgirl Flora (Ginevra Antona), the shy Arturo demonstrates his love by anonymously leaving a signature treat from a local bakery. Problem being that a kind government official is the man who bought Arturo his first treat from the bakery; and is found shot to death one morning in said bakery, ruining Arturo’s plans of winning Flora’s heart. A special place within the film is also reserved for a courageous local judge who is central in bringing local crime figures to account. Knowing that Flora stops by his door every morning, Arturo secretly crafts a message of love on the footpath in chalk. No luck there either; as the judge is tragically killed in a car bombing that very morning.
But the section of the film that will occasion the most laughs is Arturo’s “Andreotti period.” Looking to his father for advice on how to win a girl’s heart, Arturo instead finds it within a coincidentally playing interview with then Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti. Arturo takes Andreotti’s story of proposing to his wife in a cemetery to heart, and attempts to do the same with poor Flora. Quoting his hero at numerous points, Arturo even goes so far as to maintain a scrapbook of all Andreotti related press clippings, and demanding his father hang a large portrait of the man over his bed – right under a more modest painting of Jesus. The audience practically fell off their chairs at Arturo’s appearance at a fancy dress party as his hero – complete with goblin ears and shuffling step – where he is proclaimed the winner of the competition with his ‘hunchback costume.’ Keen to become a journalist, and confront the Mafia who wreak so much havoc in his own life, Andre uses the advice of the master to wander into a meeting with General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, who is in town to tackle the excesses of the Palermo Mafia. The task ends tragically.
Moving in to a contemporary time period, Arturo (now Pierfrancesco Diliberto) is awoken from his slumber by the return of Flora (Cristiana Capotondi), now working for the campaign of Salvatore Lima. His love unabated, Arturo is persuaded to also work for Lima as a local news correspondent documenting the campaign and hoping to get closer to the beautiful Flora. Sadly all he captures is the dull progress of Lima shaking hands in market places, attending party meetings, and repeatedly stating ‘Sicily needs Europe, and Europe needs Sicily.’ Almost on the cusp of success with Flora, the Mafia intervenes yet again and murders Lima in the midst of his campaign. The outrage reflects the real political events the film weaves in throughout its narrative – with genuine footage of Italians taking to the streets and demanding that the government ‘get the Mafia out of the state.’ Of course, there is a happy ending in store for Arturo and Flora, but by this point the film has carried us far beyond their small narrative and into the ocean of Italian outrage swelling and surging towards their corrupt government. It is powerful, moving, and unexpected from a film that bills itself primarily as a comedy first. Yet it works.
The ending is suitably cute, but with a potent political twist – Arturo informing the audience that a parent has two responsibilities, ‘the first is to help defend your sons from the evil of the world; the second is to help them recognise it.’ Arturo pays homage to the individuals who did that, and the sites they were tragically killed at as a result, and the audience cannot help but be moved at the gentle, wry, and powerful way Pierfrancesco Diliberto puts forward his critique and reminds us of our responsibilities.
Rating: Four stars.