To Die for Tano (1997)
Directed by Roberta Torre
To watch To Die for Tano requires that you be willing to shift uncomfortably in your seat, to cringe a little at the over-expository script, and to watch a movie that feels sped up (but not cut) like a montage. You also need to be prepared to listen to musical numbers at every turn, to tune in to one narrator and then drop that one in favor of a Grecian chorus of ladies in a hair salon. A consistent fanfare consumes the film, the uproarious din of community drowning it out.
This is a musical, after all. In fact, it's a modern opera buffa about the murder of an overprotective mafia patrician named Tano. It's easy to draw simple comparisons to West Side Story, Pee-Wee's Playhouse and the films of Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters. Stage sets, which face the audience as they do in sitcoms, are exaggerated and cartoonish, and the song-and-dance numbers seem literally to animate all of the village's ordinary surroundings: the fishmonger bouncing an octopus on a fork to the beat of a hokey rap; the chickens and sausagelinks rhythmically swinging back and forth in the butcher shop.
The acting is pantomimed and bobbleheaded, but it helps to remember that, incredibly, the actors are all amateurs—residents of Palermo's Vucciria neighborhood. A nurse and a baker play the leads, while an electrician, farm workers, housewives, a regional inspector, and a street peddler all play parts. There is a freedom in the absurdity of the premise that brings about an unexpected lightheartedness. And zeal: the residents perform amateur dances with operatic effort.
The film was shot in 1998, back when making a movie that parodied Palermo's mafia culture was a brave move, something that could have gotten filmmaker Roberta Torre whacked. Today, the movie is already an historical document, painting, in broad strokes, what the insular regionalism and culture of the Vucciria market area was like prior the change in zoning laws that now pose a threat to the neighborhood's livelihood. Though "I make hamburgers out of guys like you" probably never was a line used by a mafioso butcher in Vucciria, it's entertaining to think maybe it was. For 75 minutes, anyway.