I Cento Passi
“I want to give up politics and life” – Giuseppe “Peppino” Impastato
This was the sentence that allowed the city officials in Cinisi to pass off Peppino’s death as a suicide. In reality the mafia dealt him out a fate he and his supporters probably could have seen coming, considering he spent the most important years of his life mocking them and their ill power.
The film I Cento Passi directed by Marco Tullio Giordana serves to recount the tale of Peppino’s life from his childhood to his unfortunate death and even beyond, to show his numerous supporters. This fast-paced film brings out Peppino as a people’s hero, sacrificing his safety and eventually his life to expose the government and mafia for what they really are. Peppino’s views on how the government should function and his radical ideas of Socialism thread through the film a story of a countercultural struggle against the people who have the power and refuse to give it up.
The opening of this ‘anti-mafia’ film is oddly similar to most mafia films that glorify the mafia code. The slow pacing and long shots certainly intensify the tension of the film. It takes young Peppino to a celebration where he becomes attached to his uncle Cesare Manzella, and also seems to be a young predecessor that might carry on the family’s name. We are introduced to Tano, who is the antagonist to not only this film, but also Peppino’s true life, when Peppino almost runs him over while trying to learn how to drive. Just like most mafia films the villain is introduced early and now all the audience is waiting for is someone to get whacked. It comes when Cesare is blown up in a car bomb, something that the audience can see from a mile away.
The oddest thing about this set of events is that in essence, they are all true. All of the events have probably been embellished a little, just to dramatically heighten the action, but all of the family relationships existed; Tano blew up Peppino’s uncle Cesare in the tragic car bomb fashion; and after Cesare’s death pieces of his body were found clinging in lemon trees meters away from where the explosion occurred.
After Cesare’s funeral the film takes a change of course and turns from looking like a mafia film into an anti-mafia film. The foreshadowing begins when young Peppino is sitting in a deep red chair at the funeral, away from the rest of his family. He is observing the rituals of the mafia and looking very critical of their actions. Subsequently the editing quickens its pace, showing us action and reaction shots that relay information as fast as the audience can process it. After the funeral Peppino visits the artist Stefano whom he heard speaking in public days before and asks him to paint a portrait of his late uncle Cesare. Stefano refuses and instead tells Peppino a story and a poem that will alter Peppino’s life forever. With the foreshadowing of red drapes flowing behind young Peppino, the film then thrusts us years later when Peppino is actively protesting with his Socialist group. The group is storming the police and a throwing themselves in front of a group of bulldozers that are trying to develop the land. The two lifestyles are juxtaposed wonderfully to start a parallel of politics between the two factions of the counterculture and the power holders.
The development of the mafia and mob bosses has probably existed a long time, and has been a group that has focused on the importance of deep politics. Sadly, the passive-aggressive way in which the mafia seems to get things done is by committing criminal acts such as murder in order to get what they want. In the opening scenes of I Cento Passi, there are many references to the changing times in Italy. A group of kids joke around when they are near a car asking where the horses went, and when the Socialist Stefano is speaking out against the dangers of the mafia, Cesare tells him the new wave of politics in Italy is a democracy, and people are getting more jobs and making ends meet. There irony in this statement because while technology is advancing, the common people are not experiencing any relief from the suffering. The economic miracle is simply only giving more food and power to the mafia. Certainly, the mafia would look forward to a capitalist society because in all ways that is how a mafia functions. They are very much a pro-bureaucracy group, with one person functioning as the head and many individual levels of bosses below that. It is this fundamentalism that helps fuel the mafia’s distaste for Communist believers. Politically these groups are far left, and far right, and the state of the society surrounding Peppino is clearly far right. At one point Peppino’s own father says he will kill him if he is truly a communist. Marxist followers focus on the rise of the lower class and the dissolving of classes that hold power in society. This power will fall into the hands of the people and an eternal utopia will form.
Peppino’s course of action through the film is to try and inform people using a deep mixture of media and culture. Italy is famous for its contributions to art and literature, and both will become devices which Peppino can use to deliver his message. When Peppino founds the radio station Radio Aut, he begins to broadcast daily messages to the people, poking fun at the mafia and similar institutions. This young, fast-paced generation seems to try and do anything to capture the attention of the people to inform them of the corrupt ways that need to change. The soundtrack to this Italian film that accompanies the radio station and Peppino as he travels around Cinisi is primarily an English one that has a lot of American counterculture rock bands. The sounds of Janice Joplin and Leonard Cohen help provide an atmospheric background to Peppino’s political crusade.
When his lack of fear for the mafia finally thrusts Peppino into the position where he believes he has enough supporters to start an actual political campaign, the tide turns for him. In the Sicilian town Peppino consults Stefano to get his input on the idea of him running for office under the Socialist Democratic party, and once he has announced he is going to run, the mafia steps in. They handle Peppino much like they are expected to, only in a much more gruesome manner. The kill Peppino and blow his body up so that there is no trace of him left.
The fact that the officials would try and hide his death as a suicide proves despite the adoration and agreement Peppino’s supporters had for him, it did not equate to years of power the mafia held. It is appalling that the government has kept the case closed on Peppino, and waited twenty years to take action against Peppino’s killers.
Considering the current political climate, this film is a very potent one. It is important for citizens, especially in a democracy, to know what is going on in the government. While Peppino’s ideas of government may not be a completely achievable goal, the freedoms he spoke out for, especially freedom of speech, are important to society. Had this film not documented Peppino’s account, many people would not know the lengths to which one man went to fight for what he believed, and I am curious to know what Peppino’s thoughts on the current state of the world’s politics would be had he not been brutally murdered thirty years ago.
Ruberto, Laura E. and Kristi M. Wilson, eds. Italian Neorealism and Global Cinema.
Detroit. Wayne State University Press, 2007.