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‘The Mafia Only Kills in Summer’: Uneven, but still worth seeing

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WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For Digital First Media

Who was your childhood hero? Who was your first crush? “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” limns these two questions to advantage.

Released in Italy under the title, “La Mafia Uccide Solo D’Estate,” the black comedy is set in the Palermo section of Sicily, during the ‘70s and ‘80s. The film revolves around Arturo, during two detached segments of his life.  As a schoolboy, he is portrayed by Alex Bisconti. Pierfrancesco Diliberto, under his stage name, Pif, plays his adult counterpart. Dilberto also co-wrote, directed, and provided narration for the film.

Arturo grows up in Palermo, the son of a mid-level bank employee. One day, he is casually watching television and watches a speech, given by the politician, Giulio Andreotti.  Arturo immediately becomes a fan of Andreotti.

Over the course of a forty year career in public life, Andreotti served in many governmental positions. This included seven stints as Prime Minister of Italy. He was also the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Party.

Andreotti’s supporters claimed that he was pivotal in transforming Italy from being a predominantly rural country, scarred by World War II, into one of the world’s leading economies. Detractors cite Andreotti’s supposed ties to the Mafia and numerous other indiscretions.

Andreotti was prosecuted for his ties to organized crime. He was also found guilty of ordering the murder of, Mino Pecorelli, a magazine editor who had been shot in the head twice at close range. Supposedly, Pecorelli was about to publish damaging disclosures about Andreotti. According to rumors, Andreotti had allowed former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, to be killed by his kidnappers. On appeal to Italy’s Supreme Court, Andreotti’s conviction was ultimately reversed. As Andreotti joked, “Apart from the Punic Wars, for which I was too young, I have been blamed for everything (wrong) that’s (ever) happened  in Italy.” For his Mafia connections and unsavory involvement with under-aged hookers, Andreotti’s reputation remains tarnished.

“The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” fails to provide any plausible explanation for Arturo’s abrupt affinity for Andreotti. The lad lacks any ideological inclinations to account for it. Moreover, not even the most staunch Andreotti chauvinist would  claim that the bespeckled, plain looking man exuded any appreciable charisma or warmth. So why exactly is the kid drawn to him?

Less difficult to divine is Arturo’s yen for his new classmate, Flora (Ginevra Antona). She is a pretty blonde with a sweet disposition. From the first moment that the teacher introduces Flora to the class, Arturo is head over heels for her. He has to compete with one of his classmates for her affections. In an effort to win her over, every morning, the shy Arturo anonymously places a pastry on her desk. However, his romantic rival takes credit for the daily gesture.

At a school costume party, Arturo dresses up as Andreotti. To achieve verisimilitude, he even dons a pair of protruding ears and black rimmed glasses, while assuming the shuffling gait and mincing vocal pattern of his idol. For his efforts, Arturo wins a prize for best costume. The contest’s judge had mistakenly thought that Arturo was supposed to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame.  When the the mistaken identity is announced, all of Arturo’s classmates erupt with derisive laughter. That is everyone other than Flora, who empathizes with Arturo’s embarrassment. It is a poignant moment.

The innocence of Arturo’s childhood is interrupted by a paroxysm of gangland violence. The slain victims include Boris Giuliano, a police inspector; Paolo Borsellino, an anti-Mafia magistrate; and General Dalla Chiesa, who had been sent to Palermo to fight organized crime. Arturo had known all three. He worries that the Mafia might even kill him and his family members.

Arturo is finally making some progress in his efforts to woo Flora. However, she announces that her family is moving to Sweden. How can it be? Arturo is crushed by the unwelcome news.

The film jumps ahead to find Arturo (now Pif), now a grown man in his early twenties. He has pursued a career in journalism, albeit to no avail. Arturo finally lands a job on a television show, hosted by a fatuous

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "The Mafia Kills Only in Summer" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58_xisFX-Ug

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “The Mafia Kills Only in Summer” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58_xisFX-Ug

. It isn’t a bona fide journalistic role. Instead, Arturo is relegated to the demeaning role of playing intermittent musical cues on a scaled down piano.

Then, one day, Arturo’s dreams come true. Who should appear in the wings of stage? None other than the long-time object of his ardor, Flora (now played by  Cristiana Capotondi). She has become the personal assistant to Salvo Lima (Toto Borgehse), a guest on the show. Lima had been the mayor of Palermo and was a well-connected political ally of Andreotti’s. Now that Arturo  has been reunited with Flora, will the long-stalled romance between them finally flourish?

The plot takes a turn with the advent of the Maxi Trial in February of 1986. Considered the world’s largest judicial proceedings in history, it was held within the walls of the Ucciardone prison in a specially constructed courtroom. It involved the prosecution of 475 Mafiosi and revealed the extensive scope of their activities.

The strength of the film is in the early portion, which wistfully depicts a boy’s first crush and his efforts to make sense of the world around him. As the youthful protagonist, Alex Bisconti, proves extremely appealing. In the 2008 film, “Il Divo,” Toni Servillo was deservedly praised for his depiction of Andreotti. Here, the child actor does a tremendous impersonation of Andreotti that is not only spot on, but hilarious to boot. As the object of Arturo’s affections, Ginevra Antona also provides a winning naturalistic performance.

As the film segues to the adult phase of the protagonist’s life, it fizzles somewhat. Perhaps distracted by his role as director, Pif gives an uninspired performance. Cristiana Capotondi’s portrayal of her character is thoroughly unpleasant. It is unclear why Arturo remains enraptured with her.

The film intermittently inserts documentary footage, some of it fabricated, about gangland slayings in Palermo and their aftermath. The repeated shifts from jocularity to more serious subject matter is disconcerting.

Nevertheless, the film does a nice job of capturing the way that the residents of Palermo had been inclined to ignore or even flat out deny the existence of the Mafia. “The Mafia Only Kills in Summer” also succeeds at depicting the pivotal role that the Maxi Trials played in triggering a shift in public consciousness.

*** No MPAA rating. 89 minutes. Distrib Films (In Italian with English subtitles)

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

 

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