CENTURIES OF ITALIAN vendetta and the true story of Tommaso Buscetta, a lynchpin of the Sicilian mafia, who famously called upon the law in his bid to turn informant, falls under the loupe of director Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor. This is a work nothing short of brilliant. It features on this year’s European Film Festival in South Africa. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the entire festival is available online and most of it without cost from 12-22 November.
While the work begins with fuzzy detail, in an early 1980s fashion rubric, with a Tommaso Bruschetta who goes under a different name and looks like Magnum PI. It forces you to quickly understand who is who in the complex tale of family, money, drugs and sex and you may dither in your focus, until about a third of the way in when everything fits into astonishing place, and you are completely rivetted. It’s a tale as much about the slippery notion of loyalty as it is about the broader understanding of betrayal on several levels. Big in its values, it is operatic in its imperative.
It’s about the power of a family photograph and the art of waiting for the best moment for vengeance, even after a lifetime. Threaded through with breaths of Verdi’s Nabucco and Macbeth, the work reflects on the Italian judicial system and the character of the felons from within and without. Like certain passages in HBO’s Oz, dealing with the potency, reach and levity of such mafia characters as Antonio Nappa (Mark Margolis) and Nino Schibetta (Tony Musante), it reflects on the hierarchy of Mafioso rule which is not gratuitously cruel, but unrelenting in its eye-for-an-eye philosophy.
With the magnificent Pierfrancesco Favino in the lead, you know you are in safe hands, and instinctively, you’re on his side – even if you can’t remember how the true story ended – as you hold, with whitened knuckles, onto his trajectory (which is not without its own sense of revenge). The work also features a seriously chilling performance by Fabrizio Ferracane as Pippo Calo, and Judge Falcone played with credible earnestness by Fausto Russo Alesi. Above all, the Italian texture of the work, which takes you from Brazil to Italy to America and back again, featuring everything from a hit in which you the viewer, are placed in the actual context of the explosion, to a young and sinister Father Christmas to a shooting in a room full of mirrors and another in a church, is mesmerising in its sense of aesthetics and the manner in which it segues violence and beauty, dangerous moments with vulnerable ones.
Clocking in at a whopping 2½ hours, the work stands its own with a sense of drma and force, offering an understanding of mafia thinking that you would be hard pressed to find in the literature. It is at once sexy and crass, crude and moving in its values. Its sense of beauty is bold and the narrative clear and satisfying.
The Traitor is directed by Marco Bellocchio and features a cast headed by Fausto Russo Alesi, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Goffredo Maria Bruno, Federica Butera, Giovanni Calcagno, Nicola Calì, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Bruno Cariello, Gabriele Cicirello, Paride Cicirello, Giuseppe Di Marca, Pierfrancesco Favino, Fabrizio Ferracane, Alberto Gottuso, Tatu La Vecchia, Raffaella Lebboroni, Luigi Lo Cascio, Ada Nisticò, Antonio Orlando, Rosario Palazzolo, Sergio Pierattini, Vincenzo Pirrotta, Alessio Praticò, Elia Schilton, Giovanni Crozza Signoris and Bebo Storti. Written by Marco Bellocchio, Valia Santella, Ludovica Rampoldi and Franceso Piccolo in collaboration with Francesco La Licata, it is produced by Beppe Caschetto, Viola Fügen, Simone Gattoni, Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane, Alexandra Henochsberg and Michael Weber, and features creative input by Nicola Piovani (music), Vladan Radovic (cinematography), Francesca Calvelli (editing), Francesco Borromeo and Maurilio Mangano (casting), Andrea Castorina, Jutta Freye and Dani Vilela (production design) and Daria Calvelli (costumes). In Italian with English subtitles, it is part of the 7th European Film Festival South Africa, screening online and without cost from 12-22 November 2020.