Exclusive interviews with Maestro Marco Bellocchio and Actor Pierfrancesco Favino, presenting The Traitor (Il Traditore), in New York at the 4th edition of Italy on Screen Today Film Fest directed by Loredana Commonara. The biopic depicting the life of Tommaso Buscetta – the Italian mobster who became one of the first Sicilian Mafia members ever to turn informant – is the Official Italian Entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards, and will be distributed in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics from January 2020.
By Tommaso Cartia
Is there an answer or a possible resolution to the atavic questions and paradoxes that a phenomenon as complex as the Sicilian Mafia still hides in its secreted code of honor? How can we even remotely conceive two different mobsters accusing each other of their lack of morality; or picturing them living and suffering for love, from the loss of a child, or happily appreciating the simple joys of life while living in the constant trepidation to kill or be killed? “We have to think of Mafia, like if it was a foreign country, with its different culture, different language, a country that is completely different from ours,” Pierfrancesco Favino, who stars in the complex role of Tommaso Buscetta, arguments, giving me a brilliant angle to reflect on. It’s through the larger-than-life profile of Buscetta that one of the most prominent Masters of Contemporary Italian Cinema, Marco Bellocchio, reflects on the Maxi Trial (1986-1992), the largest anti-Mafia process in history and on that pivotal moment of Italian history when for the first time ever, Judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, broke through the underworld of the Sicilian Mafia and unlocked its code of silence, changing it forever.
I’m Sicilian, and I’ve witnessed the Mafia operating a couple of blocks from my house in Sicily, probably that’s why I’m usually very cautious, and I dare to say intolerant when I experience some of those clichés and simplifications of that reality fictionalized on the silver screen. I’m also talking about masterpieces like The Godfather, which is a grandiose, epic movie that I perceive though as something to watch for its
The ideas for his movies often come dressed up in imaginative suggestions, in pictorial epiphanies, and that is no surprise as indeed the director of Fists in The
Starting from that imaginary, Favino really did transform and almost transfigured himself into Buscetta, he was also able to perfectly modulate and emulate his voice and that specific Sicilian dialect, and for someone who is not Sicilian, like Favino, ad even for the Sicilians themselves, it is definitely an epic undertaking with a surprising result. If Favino worked as a biographer with the subject matter, Bellocchio tried to find that something in his autobiographical experience, that he could have made him feel closer to the world of the mobster: “At first it was very difficult to enter that world, starting with the Mafia language, that I didn’t know, a language of few words. Then, getting closer to Buscetta I was fascinated by his love for music, opera, melodrama, and even pop music. That made him closer. Also, the theme of betrayal is something that I can definitely relate to. I’m not ashamed to say that I did betray in my life. I betrayed because I wanted to separate myself from certain situations I didn’t agree with anymore. So, I betrayed with the hope to operate a positive change. Even though this is not really the case of Buscetta, he betrayed not to change but in order that he could have preserved who he was.”
Maestro Bellocchio’s words seem to echo one of the most significant books in Sicilian and Italian literature, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, when addressing the change in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento – the time that consolidated the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century – the author writes: “if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” That’s somehow Buscetta’s philosophy and the possible reason behind his decision to turn informant, and not really pentito (repented), because he never wanted to deny or betrayed what for him were the real Mafia values, against his enemies within the organization of Cosa Nostra. “Buscetta will never be either a hero or an exemplary,” tells me
It is sort of hard, still, to understand the different sets of rules and codes of the Mafia, a world where every common-known value seems to be overturned. Mafia is indeed a criminal organization as well as a way of thinking that is not just of Sicily or the South of Italy, it’s a contemporary world-wide phenomenon; although: “its code of honor is millenary,” argued Favino, who really dig into the Mafia history, “the first traces of the Mafia movement are attributable to the Saracens, an Arab tribe that invaded Sicily and that needed to escape from the Normans who were trying to conquer the island. The Saracens hid in the most remote villages of the island where they started communities in groups of ten. The Mafia’s Decina (the ten in Italian), is still today a branch of the Sicilian Mafia family. And so probably the function of Mafia is rooted in a society that feels far away from the central power, and that needed to come up with its own inner rules.”
Pierfrancesco Favino stepped into the Sicilian Mafia world with the same grace and intellectual honesty and respect that he put in embracing Bellochio’s world: “It was incredible, to be a part of his cinema, which is really art, he is an artist lived by his poetical, philosophical world. The moment that he opens you the door to that world, it’s pure magic. To have gained his trust and his listening is something that will definitely divide my career in before and after Bellocchio.”
The Traitor has already been a massive success in Italy, it has been already distributed in 100 regions, it was acclaimed and praised at the Cannes Film Festival this year, won several awards at the prestigious Nastro d’Argento, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor
We can’t bend to the codes of the American movies, a cinema that ultimately, we are not able to do, but that doesn’t mean that we have
Wishing all of the good luck to The Traitor for its American release; I was happy to have been stimulated to revisit my own doubts, questions and unresolved paradoxes of the Mafia phenomenon that this movie beautifully processes in a maxi trial act of Beauty.
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