Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Alberto Lattuada - Mafioso (1962)
Alberto Lattuada did something quite different when directing “Mafioso” (1962). By the title of this film, one may think it is full of action, suspense, and crime, but contrary to popular belief, this film is full of hidden humor. It may sound like an oxymoron, but in this dark comedy Lattuada does a one of a kind job of addressing this taboo subject (in 1962). He exposes the darkness of the mafia, capturing everything from the responsibilities to the perks, all he while incorporating humor and comic relief. “Nino” Badalamenti is a hardworking and meticulous FIAT factory supervisor living in Milan. After years of ignoring his vacation time, and having just earned his yearly bonus, he decides to take his wife, Marta and his two daughters, Cinzia and Caterina, to his hometown Calamo, Sicily. Being a proper, civilized Milanese, Marta isn’t very thrilled to be “watching Italy fade away” as they approach the island on the ferry.
Stereotypes and Humor
Stereotypes are used often within this film. They depict the true rivalry between mainland Italians and islander Italians. Nino later explains that although he may live in Milan, he is “still a Sicilian”. This goes to show the audience that both sides feel the same separation from one another. Once they arrive in his hometown, Nino and his girls, whom prior to this trip have never met his mother and father, are warmly welcomed in the streets amongst a huge crowd of family. Inside Nino’s parents home and examined for the first time, Marta and the children are given odd looks. All three of them have blonde hair, fair skin and are dressed in well-kept clothing, unlike the rest of Nino’s dark haired, dark skinned and rural family members. After introductions, it’s clear that Marta feels out of place. She doesn’t realize that the urban norms she is accustomed to, such as smoking after meals or the way she speaks and carries herself, are not accepted in such a small Sicilian town where people follow old customs. After a hefty meal and post lunch entertainment by Nino, he decides it’s time to go see the Godfather, Don Vincenzo. Before leaving Milano for vacation, Nino’s boss, Dr. Zanchi, asks him to personally deliver a “very valuable gift” to the Don, on his behalf. Marta doesn’t like the idea of being around the Mafia, but Nino explains that when he was a boy he was involved with them, but it merely meant having to be a messenger boy. But now, it seems that Don Vincenzo has a “task”, and it’s apparent that he is highly considering calling upon Nino to accomplish it. During this time, Nino’s father and him are considering some land investments, although after the unusual rainfall, the landlord is now asking for much more money due to the fact that the land now has a “water supply”. A few days later after squabbling over the price of the land, Nino is called to Don Vincenzo’s room to realize that the landlord is also there and willing to give him the land for the original price. Now Nino is in undeniable debt to Don Vincenzo, and vows to repay him in any way that he can. In time, Nino will return this “friendly favor”, when his time comes to show his love, gratitude, and loyalty to the Godfather.
Marta and Sicilian Mores: Mafioso’s Light Side
While this is going on between the men, Marta is trying her best to be optimistic and fit in with her in-laws. She realizes that Rosalia, Nino’s sister, has an unfortunate overgrowth of hair on her body and has therefore developed a complex. Recently engaged to an unemployed lowlife, she’s not even allowed at the beach with her fiancé due to the fact that he feels embarrassed by her. Marta decides to take matters into her own hands and transforms Rosalia from hairy and self-conscious, into a flawless and smooth skinned woman. After revealing Rosalia’s beauty to Nino’s parents, they come to accept her and realize she truly is a good woman. Now that everything seems to be running smoothly amongst everyone, a twist arises. While in town, Nino is invited to go on a trip with his old pals. He explains that he won’t be able to attend due to the fact that he promised his wife that they would leave a few days earlier to visit her parents before returning to Milano. Once Marta hears about this hunting trip though, she changes her mind and tells Nino to go and have fun, now that she fits in with the family she isn’t having such a bad time. Nino is thrilled to go, and now even Don Liborio wants to join! At this point, the audience can somewhat sense that something just doesn’t fit. Don Liborio is being much too kind, and apparently Nino is being much too naïve. This equation just doesn’t seem to add up to happy endings. As the suspicions rise amongst the audience and the story continues to darken, Lattuada does a nice job of incorporating comedic relief.
Nino and the Mafia: the Dark Side
After few hours of sleep, Nino is awakened at two in the morning by his father who serves him a coffee, hands him his gun, and wishes him good luck with a firm hug and kiss on the cheek. He’s a little bit confused by his father’s affection, but pays no attention to why that is and leaves to meet the others. After feeling followed, Nino turns around and realizes that Don Liborio has been trailing him. He takes him to a secret area where Don Vincenzo is waiting for him inside of a car.He asks Nino if he remembers the promise he made to him, and if he was ready to do him a favor. Nino accepts, although according to the Godfather, he can say no to the task if he wants to (which we know is obviously false). He is told he will be going on a “long and short trip”, and that he has to just deliver a letter. He isn’t told where is going exactly, but after a long trip in uncomfortable positions, Nino arrives in New York to realize that he had been fooled. His job is
to kill a man that has been a traitor to them. It will be simple and quick. This is the reason, in fact, that they choose Nino to do this favor for the Godfather. His aim and preciseness make him the perfect candidate.
Same Clothes, Different Film
After successfully accomplishing his assignment by killing the man, we see him return safely to Calamo, with his hands full of game he supposedly caught while hunting. Visibly perturbed, he gets into bed with his wife, near his two children, and cries himself to sleep. The film ends in the same manner it began, with him walking through the factory, supervising the workers. Although he may be wearing the same uniform, adhering to the same responsibilities he’s always had, it’s inevitable that his life is now changed and will never go back to the way it was before. He is Nino Badalamenti, hardworking husband, father and Mafioso, per sempre.


kelco411 said...

In my opinion, this film kind of goes against the concept of a straight forward "genre film". We talked about in class how filmmakers try and make a film of a certain genre, but they also try to make it their own in some way. I think that is exactly what Alberto Lattuada did with "Mafioso". Obviously, it is meant to be seen as a comedy, but it also has elements of suspense and danger in it as well. There are so many comedies out there that are about going to see where someone comes from and their crazy family. This movie had that, but it also had more to it. It had the element of the mafia and the message of never betraying those close to you. Lattuada knew what he was doing when he made the film this way, and he did a very good job. This film incorporates a few different genres into one, and it made the film a lot better.

Un Amico said...

it's been my experience with italian comedies that they are highly deceptive. they claim to be comedies, but in the US, they would be black comedies or "dramadies". i've seen this in the films of lina wertmuller, and even le fate ignoranti fits into this. mafioso would be the supreme example, overall, i suppose. at first we see nino as a cream cheese kind of guy; he comes off goofy and kind of a suck up at work, but then, over time, as the plot develops, he changes before our very eyes and we see that there is a darkness to him. there is no smile on his face when he aims his pistol and shoots perfectly at the fair and he takes some pride in his markmanship. however, we also see that he is ultimately not a killer when he carries out the job and later cries.

these kinds of emotional shifts make the film ultimately uncomfortable at times, but that is a part of italian comedy.

tots288 said...

Totally agree, I too was waiting for a very Scarface/Godfather type of movie but i was pleasantly suprised with a lot of humor. To me this movie was very well put together and it made it a lot of fun to watch and even see the differences of Northern and Southern Italians (I myself being a Northern 'polentone' The use of the humor to me is what made the film successful in my eyes. During the time period (possibly more so after this film) Italians were notorious for their use of comedy in films and they were all pleasantly ammusing, is one is definitely one to add to the list of Italian comedies that I enjoyed!

Jessica said...

After watching this film, I couldn't help but think of the recent film Gomorrah and the book written by Roberto Saviano from which the story line was taken. If Mafioso had not been a satirical comedy, would it have been judged as harshly as Saviano's book or the film Gomorrah? It's interesting the way the film addresses the taboo topic of the Mafia. Perhaps the use of so many stereotypes and the use of comedy, make it less of a reality than a film like Gomorrah. Although even in a film like Mafioso which is supposed to make us laugh, one who lives the "mafiosa" culture would find a lot of truth in the movie and maybe even sadness.

Emirjona85 said...

This movie made me think in different ways. I agree that this movie is not only a comedy, but also it shows the reality of the situation in Sicily. I think that Lattuada's intention is to make this movie not only fun to watch, but also give us an idea of what the Mafia is like. I think the way he put this movie together is a masterpiece. It describes many aspects of life, like North and South differences, the Mafia etc.

Celia said...

In the case of genre, "Mafioso", in my opinion, cannot be specified a one specific genre. It starts of as a light hearted comedy about a man who returns to his hometown to visit his family and friends. But then it moves into a drama sort of crime genre with the mafia situations. In a way, the combination and transition of 2 genres reminded me of another Italian film, "La Vita è Bella". I know that the films have totally different storylines but they do have one similarity. Like "Mafioso", "La Vita è Bella" starts off as a light hearted feel good comedy about a man who falls in love. But then that film transitions into a drama sort of war genre when Guido, Eliseo, and Giosuè are sent to the concentration camps.
Also in "Mafioso" I could relate to how the families seemed like polar opposites to one another. I could probably relate to that the most.

Tani said...

I think the film is described in the exact moment when Antonio is telling the right arm of his boss what he feels the term Mafia means instead of what the rest of Italy knows it to be. He says it's about honor, trust and friendship. I feel that the movie does not have to do much with the killing of the man, but it is more a way to explain how you turn into a mafioso and yet you do not have to be a bad person. To make it easier upon the viewer they show the most simple Mafia person which is Antonio and use that in this comedic way to ease the thought of what Mafia is. The film does twist the concepts believed by society though and I feel that it uses a very astute way to show the viewer what they are capable of and how they get away with it. Thus the term: "Get away with murder". Considering films are about entertainment though I feel that it gets a 10/10 especially for the period it came out in.

Cinepresa87 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cinepresa87 said...

This was an interesting film because it creatively exposed the sensitive subject of the Mafia, but was sprinkled with comedy thanks to Antonio's(Alberto Sordi) character. The genre of the film is hazy as it does not comfortably fit entirely into a comedy or crime, but successfully fulfills both genres equally. As stated in another post, it is not a traditional or typical mafia movie (i.e. Godfather) which makes it a refreshing film to watch. The film also portrayed many stereotypes (Northerners and Southerners) and at times over embellished them, but it added humor to the movie and let Italians relate, or at least acknowledge that there is some truth behind what is shown and said about those particular Italians.

Cool Italian Pics said...

Someone once said,"Comedy is a man in trouble" This film was great in that respect. Alberto Sordi was magnificent in the role of Nino! What also made this interesting was that the film leaves us with Nino expressing remorse, then returning to his job as if nothing was unusual about his trip. In contrast, most American comedies leave us with a more certain "happy ending." The ability to have the ending working on more than one emotional level is what really sold me on how great the film actually is. While today we consider the dangers of commenting on organized crime, this film's approach does not really villify the Mafia. Sure they are dangerous, but their threat is not to the community at large. For Alberto Lattuada, he probably knew where not to cross the line when making this film.

Mr Hooster said...

As more time goes by, the Italian mafia is becoming less influential in every day Italy, although they are still powerful. Back when this film was made, if it was not portrayed as a comedy I believe it would have become very controversial. It does do a good job showing, in an innocent way (innocent for the mafia anyway) what the culture in Sicily was surrounding the mafia. It was a group that people both loved and feared, depended on and loathed. It all depended on what situation people may have been in at the time. Lattuada did do a good job playing at some Sicilian stereotypes which I found amusing as a Sicilian.