Review: The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be
- VENICE 2019: The documentary by the derisive provocateur Franco Maresco is filmed in Palermo on Falcone and Borsellino Day and guests-stars the great photographer Letizia Battaglia
Provocative through and through, from the very title of the film, Franco Maresco’s The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be [+see also:
film profile] is the third Italian work to feature in Competition at the Venice International Film Festival and the perfect follow-up to Belluscone - Una storia siciliana [+see also:
film profile], which was presented in the Horizons section of the Festival back in 2014.
Playing lead roles in this documentary are the unlikely Palermo event organiser Ciccio Mira and the incurable, mocking cynicism of the author, while 84-year-old photographer Letizia Battaglia, one of the New York Times’ ‘11 women of 2017’, guest- stars in the film. This so-called “photographer of mafia wars” - as the press have described her in typically lazy, journalistic fashion, ignoring the fact that murder victims haven’t been the only focus of her photos – becomes some sort of reluctant Virgil in Maresco’s rendering of Palermo, which he filmed on 23 May 2017 during Falcone and Borsellino Day, 25 years on from the death of two judges - now national heroes - at the hands of the mafia. Though it would seem that not all of Palermo’s inhabitants consider the two to be heroes, judging by the “interviews” carried out by the director, who asks questions in his typical metaphysical manner. Letizia Battaglia is somewhat perplexed by what she describes as a village festival, which the memory of these great tragedies has been reduced to. Nevertheless, her sense of commitment leads her to distance herself from the cosmic-scale pessimism of her director friend (she refers to him as a "bloody sceptic"). The theory hazarded by Maresco here is that the mafia actually draws benefit from these anti-mafia demonstrations.
With biting sarcasm, Franco Maresco observes the preparations underway for a town square festival dedicated to Falcone and Borsellino in the infamous Zen district, as organised by Ciccio Mira, the neomelodic singing mogul who readily offers his services at weddings and other celebrations organised by the Cosa Nostra godfathers. In fact, it’s to one of his statements that we owe the title of the film; pressed by Maresco to say something against the mafia, Ciccio Mira pontificates, looking straight into the camera: "young people, be warned: the mafia isn’t what it used to be". The ambiguity, the reticence (i.e. the code of silence) that seems engrained in the DNA of many of Palermo’s inhabitants, their ignorance mixed with resentment vis-à-vis politicians… These are the elements which Franco Maresco looks to bring to light at all costs. He also foregrounds a few “human stories” such as that of Cristian Miscel, a young neomelodic singer in Ciccio Mira’s team who has found himself unable to sing since waking from a coma.
There’s an aesthetic-symbolic reason why the film switches to black and white each and every time Ciccio Mira appears on screen. Cinico tv, the brilliant 1990s TV programme by Franco Maresco and Daniele Ciprì, marked a watershed moment in Italian TV history. Once that chillingly fantastic black and white production hit our screens, things would never be the same again when it came to anthropological studies of Italy’s South and the description of the human phenomenon in all its nakedness. This latest work of Maresco’s harks back to the fire of Cinico tv, but things change. Perhaps vulgarity and nastiness are winning out, in which case a change in approach might be advisable.
The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be is produced by Ila Palma e Dream Film with Tramp Lm. Italian distribution is in the hands of the Istituto Luce Cinecittà while international sales are managed by Fandango Sales.
(Translated from Italian)
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