Thursday, March 5, 2015

Mafia-lite: Pierfrancesco Diliberto directs, acts in & co-writes THE MAFIA KILLS ONLY IN SUMMER

TrustMovies has long insisted that if you want to see a really good movie about the Mafia, it simply has to be Italian. Italians understand and are able to show these ugly, murdering sociopaths for the walking, talking pieces of crap that they are. American movies and television -- from The Godfather and The Sopranos on down (or up, depending on your viewpoint) always manage to glamorize their subject, no matter how "real" they try to make things. Italian films -- from I cento passi to The Sicilian Girl are a whole other breed.

Now comes something a little different: It's Italian, all right, and it's a kind of Mafia comedy. But not anything of the heavy-handed-but often-hilarious Joe Pesci variety. No. THE MAFIA KILLS ONLY IN SUMMER offers a combination coming-of-age/first-love tale set in Palermo, Sicily, and wrapped around the Mafia as perceived by our little (and then larger, older) hero. The film's creator (director, lead actor and co-writer), shown at right, is a popular Italian comic and satirist known as Pierfrancesco Diliberto, aka Pif.

His movie, initially quite charming and amusing, introduces us to his younger self, as the boy Arturo -- played by a very good young actor in his first role, Alex Bisconti, below, right -- learns about everything from love and parents to school and the Mafia, in the process forming what can only be called a rather warped view of things. Given that the general populace cannot and will not admit even to the Mafia's existence, it is little wonder our confused hero goes his own odd way.

Movie fans of Italian cinema who know and love Il Divo should get a big charge out Pif's use of newsreel footage of the real Giulio Andreotti, who soon becomes the particular hero of little Arturo. There's a journalist who befriend the kid, too, offering some good advice. And then there's the love of his life, Flora, who appears as the school's new girl and has Arturo in the palm of her hand forever after. Into all this is layered various Mafia killings, as Arturo tries to come to terms with what he does and doesn't see and understand. (The movie's title comes from something his father tells him to make things "better.")

All this is reasonably interesting and fun -- until the adult Arturo arrives, in the form of Pif himself, who may be a fine and funny talk show host but plays a bumbling adult hero in a surprisingly charmless fashion. He looks and acts a bit like our own Ray Romano but turns out to be -- at this point in his career, at least -- not much of an actor. The movie soon turns into what it has been threatening to become all along: a network-TV-level, romantic sit-com. As the adult Flora, however, Cristiana Capotondi (of Kryptonite!), shown above and below, right, brings a healthy dose of warmth and beauty to the proceedings.

There is a fairly amusing section during which Arturo works as a "pianist" on a popular TV show (below), on which the host practices his "French," but at the point at which the film moves from the kids to the adult figures, it soon ceases to be very funny,  insightful, or satiric. And its final "homage" to the dead judges and other heroes who stood up to the Mafia -- and died for it -- seems almost tacky and more than a tad out of place. As Arturo teaches his own little son the lessons of how these dead figures stood up to this criminal organization, we are clearly meant to learn and appreciate these lessons, too. But it all comes off as mostly Mafia-lite.

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer opens tomorrow, March 6, in New York City at the Quad Cinema, and in the Los Angeles area on March 27 at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7. Other cities will gain the film during April, as it expands across the country.

No comments: