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CANNES 2019 Competition

Review: The Traitor

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- CANNES 2019: With his story of the mafia boss-turned-informant Tommaso Buscetta, Italian director Marco Bellocchio once again raises the bar on his own special brand of social cinema

Review: The Traitor
Pierfrancesco Favino in The Traitor

A national treasure for the Italian film industry at 80 years old (as of November), having spent 54 of these years making movies ever since his electrifying debut back in 1965 with Fists in the Pocket, Marco Bellocchio first announced this new project of his three years ago, at the Cannes Film Festival. Today, he is making his way back to the Croisette with The Traitor [+see also:
trailer
Q&A: Marco Bellocchio
film profile
]
in hand; a film which is in competition at the Festival and whose story - revolving around Tommaso Buscetta, the “boss of both worlds” - doubtless caught Bellocchio’s eye through its moral implications. This director, who was given a religious and middle class education, who has used his camera like some kind of weapon of rebellion and who has turned anti-Freudian psychoanalysis into an overbearing narrative device, could hardly resist the double lure of guilt and forgiveness which characterised the life of one of the first big collaborators of justice; an informant who allowed magistrates to finally break into the Cosa Nostra system. This is a biopic in true Bellocchio style; visionary and original, it brings together horror and dream-like delirium, as was also the case in Good Morning, Night [+see also:
trailer
interview: Marco Bellocchio, director …
film profile
]
, the director’s 2003 piece on the kidnapping of ex-Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, carried out by terrorists within the Red Brigades. But it also offers frequent historical references, ascertained through consultation with Francesco La Licata and Saverio Lodato, two experts on the subject of the Italian mafia.

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With The Traitor,Bellocchio is once again raising the bar on social cinema, surprising the viewer, moreover, with the considerable heft of the film’s first part: long action sequences with gunfights, transversal vendettas and mafia brutality all come together in a crescendo reminiscent of Martin Scorsese movies. It throws down the gauntlet to the world of television series which, in recent years, has very successfully mined the mafia phenomenon. Bellocchio, however, maintains his unique perspective; he doesn’t edge towards the slippery slope of sympathy and he peppers the film with frequent touches of class, such as the homage he pays to Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shangai in his mirror factory shoot-out. The film begins in Sicily in the early 1980s, opening with a huge, old style party (more along the lines of Visconti’s The Leopard than Coppola’s The Godfather) where the Cosa Nostra are discussing how to control the heroine trade and which will subsequently see a war break out between the Corleonesi and old mafia families.

Pierfrancesco Favino is majestic in the elegant attire of the lead character. Buscetta’s personality can be rapidly deciphered: he enjoys life, beautiful clothes, villas and many wives, and displays a vanity belying anxiety and insecurity... And he’s the exact opposite of his arch rival Totò Riina (Nicola Calì), boss of the Corleonesi, who wipes out Buscetta’s family as a result of his betrayal. Bellocchio highlights the two contradictory ways in which “honour” is interpreted by the mafia, demonstating the hypocrisy and falseness of a man who lives in sobriety surrounded by religious images and criticises the morality of others while ordering the murder of others himself. As he stands before Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alessi), the judge who interrogates him following his extradition from Brazil, Buscetta describes his defection as an act of heroism in response to the Corleonesi betrayal of old mafia values. A mafia code which the judge dismisses as myth. Buscetta and Falcone both walked predestined paths; but while the mafioso dies in his bed at the ripe of age of 72, Falcone is blown up in 1992, courtesy of five quintals of TNT planted by Riina’s killers.

In the 148 minutes of the film, Bellocchio doesn’t sidestep the political dimensions of the story, examining the links between Cosa Nostra and the other institutions which Buscetta’s revelations eventually lead them to. And involved in these links, moreover, is the seven times Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, who is accused of fraternising with the mafia. The very same politician who, as a film-lover and a minister, invested all of his puritanical energy into censoring the more “embarassing” films (even refusing Bicycle Thieves an exportation visa). In The Traitor, Bellocchio quite literally strips him down to his pants.

The Traitor is an IBC Movie and Kavac Film co-production, with RAI Cinema, Ad Vitam (France), Match Factory Productions (Germany) and Gullane (Brazil). International sales have been entrusted to The Match Factory. The film is released in Italy as of 23 May – the anniversary of the Capaci bombing carried out by the mafia - courtesy of 01.

(Translated from Italian)

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