My parents spent time in Italy in the early 1960s and their slide collection from that era drives me absolutely mad with envy. That gray-scaled aesthetic, with its discrete lapels, bryl-creemed hairdos and women in loosely knotted headscarves would be enough for me to love Alberto Lattuada’s largely forgotten Mafioso. But there’s so much more. Existing in its own counterweighted world of oppositions — urban/rural, traditional/modern, Northern/Southern — Lattuada’s film builds up such an enormous reservoir of good will that his audience is willing to follow the protoagonist just about anywhere, up to and including a flight in a cargo hold crate from Sicily to New York to perform a murderous errand.
A comedy of manners wrapped around a neo-realist noir, Mafioso is a sort of adult coming-of-age story about Nino. He’s a straight arrow company man who works in a Milan factory ensuring that the gears of capitalist industry turn unimpeded. Taking his first vacation in years, he brings his blonde wife and young daughters back to his home village in Sicily, a smoldering outpost of carnality and honor far from the industrialized paradise that is Milan.
Nino is transformed when he reacquaints himself with his childhood home and it’s a pleasure to see actor Alberto Sordi personifying a man wading out beyond his depth. His eyes shine with recognition as he encounters the vivid shades of local color and then just as evocatively his expression withers in the face of the encroaching truth of mob brutality. Lattuada’s style transforms too, languishing in the details of the sleepy, suspicious village, then brightening into new-wavish jazzy rhythms when he enters city limits. That sense of discovery, translated so convincingly by the director, is what makes this experience so immediate even nearly 50 years later.
Opens January 19 at Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika