28 November 2009

Il Mio Viaggio in Italia -or- My Journey Through Italian Cinema (Part Five: Mafioso)

Can you have a movie featuring a Mafia Don without something untoward taking place? One can hope that what seems like an engaging, charming sometimes comic little film will leave us with a smile and nothing difficult to endure and ponder. But then it wouldn't be much of a movie.

Mafioso (1962) is much of a movie. It's a lot of movie.

Antonio is a Milanese factory supervisor who takes his wife and young daughters to his Sicilian hometown for a long awaited vacation. They stay with mom, pop, the ugly duckling sister and a seemingly endless parade of extended family and old friends. Among the friends is the local Mafia Don.

It's all perfectly charming as Antonio renews old acquaintances and his wife tries to win over in laws who initially think her a snob. But you sense that Antonio's chumminess with the Don may end up having ramifications, especially when he helps our hero purchase some land for his dad. Hey, it was just a favor. Maybe it can be repaid someday.

In films with Mafia Dons, favors are going to need returning. Guaranteed.

So what's the Don going to ask of Antonio? Lesse, could it have anything to do with Antonio's renowned marksmanship? Whattayou think? Of course the Don allows Antonio the option of saying "no." But that offer is bracketed with reminders of what a lovely family Antonio has. Hmmm.....

It's impossible to go further with our story without spoiling it. Suffice to say that Mafioso mixes morality in with the smiles. Really an amazing film from director Alberto Lattuada. I felt like I'd gotten many hours worth of story in one hundred and forty three minutes of running time.

Movies fail or succeed on how much they engage and whether they resonate with us. Mafioso adds to these successes by the different ways in which it engages and resonates. Lattuada is a director who happily allows characters and their circumstances dictate his story telling. His camera follows them, deftly shifting from close up to long shots as needed to best convey their interaction with events. When Antonio is faced with his "big decision," we suddenly see his face, especially his eyes, in full frame and then those of the Don. Perfect.

Mafioso is an easy enough story for a director to get wrong and for that matter, Alberto Sordi in the lead does a marvelous job of being true to character regardless of what unfolds before him. A lesser thespian would have gummed it up. The movie desperately needed Sordi to stay within Antonio and that he did. He strikes no false notes.

I hope you see Mafioso. It's available on DVD and has been shown a few times on TCM. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Really, it's not like doing a favor for the local Don.

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