Thursday, February 6, 2020

Marco Bellocchio's THE TRAITOR offers a great Italian filmmaker working at his height

How many marvellous movies can one man direct -- and still keep them coming very late in life? Marco Bellocchio will turn 81 later this year, yet his new film THE TRAITOR (Il traditore) is not simply one of his best, it is also one of the best movies dealing with the Italian Mafia that I have seen in many a year.

The director, shown at left, comes at his subject from an individual angle, concentrating on a single, powerful, complicated man and his world -- which is, while expanding, simultaneously closing in on him.

That individual is Tomasso Buscetta (who will soon be going by one alias or another), and he is portrayed by one of Italy's most impressive actors -- in appearance, talent and versatility -- Pierfrancesco Favino (probably best known to American audiences as Marco Polo's fucked-up father from that not-quite-popular-enough-for-a-third-season Netflix series.

Signore Favino (shown above, right, and below) has demonstrated his skill over decades -- in roles as disparate as those in The Last Kiss, El Alamein, The Unknown Woman, Saturn in Opposition, Piazza Fontana and the amazing Suburra (on Netflix) to name just a few -- and here he possesses the screen thoroughly yet surprisingly quietly.
He overdoes nothing.

Favino has a commanding presence, and, boy, does he know how to use it. As the titular "traitor," his motives are hardly pure. Buscetta pretends that he comes from a time when the Mafia was a better and more just organization. Hah: phony and hypocritical nostalgia, which he is called out for by the smart and caring prosecutor (a fine Fausto Russo Alesi, below, left) who becomes as much of a friend as can be expected from these oddball alliances.

Bellocchio gets it all right. From the Mafia killings, as one nasty family is replaced by an even nastier one, to the several courtroom scenes that provide the movie's standout moments, to all the betrayals (one in particular is shocking and disgusting) -- and through it all, Favino's performance nails us. So specific and "felt" is it that you will almost consistently feel that you understand, not only what this character is saying and feeling, but even what he is thinking.

If you already have an acquaintance with  Italy's history, criminal procedure and courtroom habits, you'll probably be somewhat ahead of the game. But the filmmaker wisely and helpfully fills us in on some of this via the written information that begins his film, along with an early identification -- the names are both spoken and plastered across the screen -- of the various characters we'll need to know.

The finale may put you in mind of the current Irishman. Except that here, for all of Buscetta's faults and very mixed motives, we have a character actually worth an entire, two-and-one-half-hour movie (let alone a three-and-one-half-hour film). How splendid to find Signore Bellocchio still working in tip-top form. (That's Fabrizio Ferracane, above, as our non-hero's longtime friend and Mafia associate, Pippo Calo.)

From Sony Pictures Classics, in Italian with English subtitles, The Traitor opened last week in New York City and will hit South Florida (next Friday, February 14 -- for Valentine's Day!) at at the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Miami, here in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters, and at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth. Wherever you live across the USA, to find a location near you, click here.

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