The Mafia Only Kills in Summer was one of the big hits of the recent Italian Film Festival, and it now gains a limited cinema release.
This is a quirky mix of coming of age tale, political satire and black comedy. The film is set against the backdrop of Palermo in the 70s and 80s, two decades marked by a bloody Mafia war, when the mob held sway over the region and would assassinate anyone who opposed them or tried to curb their activities or power. It is also a deft blend of fact and fiction. Many prominent political figures were killed during this period, and the film incorporates some newsreel footage and archival footage of their funerals to add veracity to the material.
We see events from the rather naive viewpoint of Arturo, an aspiring young journalist. Arturo is played by the film’s writer and director Pierfrancesco Diliberto, a popular but lightweight tv host making his feature film directorial debut here. Diliberto is the Italian equivalent of American comic and tv host Jon Stewart, and he goes by the professional pseudonym of Pif. There is a semi-autobiographical element to the film, as Pif grew up in Sicily during that bloody and turbulent time.
We first meet Arturo as an eight year old (played by Alex Bisconti), a curious boy who has been fascinated by the Mafia since he was a baby. He believes that the Mafia has been responsible in some way or another for all of the key moments in his life, from conception through adulthood, even though his father tries to reassure him that they are safe from their reach. He is also obsessed with Giulio Andreotti, Italy’s then Prime Minister who constantly denied that the Mafia existed.
Arturo is keen to impress Flora (Ginevra Antona), a pretty girl in his class at school, and he goes to great lengths to try and woo her away from Francesco, his main rival in the love stakes. Arturo’s attempts to win Flora over centre around tales of true crime and the Mafia. But eventually Flora moves away from Palermo, and Arturo moves on with his life.
There is something sweet and charming and innocent about this aspect of the film as it explores Arturo’s unrequited infatuation and his somewhat innocent view of the world around him. Bisconti has a precocious and winning presence and a lot of charm, and his naturalistic performance is endearing.
But then the film leaps ahead twenty years, and this is where it loses much of its goodwill. Arturo (now played by the director himself) is now trying to establish himself as a journalist, specialising in crime and corruption. He lands a job covering the election campaign of a prominent politician, and he meets Flora (now played by Cristiana Capotondi), who works as a personal assistant. His attempts to rekindle the passion for Flora lead to many awkward and embarrassing moments.
But when we meet Arturo as an adult much of the early charm seems to evaporate. Arturo now comes across as an awkward, hapless and bumbling comical figure, and it’s hard to reconcile the adult Arturo with the curious eight year old of those early scenes. Pif’s performance is also a little hamfisted and shrill, and is often grating. And the character of Flora is somewhat underdeveloped and Capotondi’s performance is fairly bland and colourless.
The lighthearted coming of age romance of the early part of the movie was enjoyable stuff, and there is a jaunty and nostalgic tone to the material. But the latter parts of the film exploring the Mafia violence are less successful and less enjoyable, and many moments fall flat. The film seems uneven, and the darker tone jars. This second half of the film is more reminiscent of the powerful and brutal Gomorrah, which looked at the activities of the vicious Camorra, albeit tempered with touches of fairly bleak black humour.
Director: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
Cast: Cristiana Capotondi, Pif, Alex Bisconti and Ginevra Antona
Release Date: 11 June 2015
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television