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Friday, 15 June 2007

Alberto Sordi's "Mafioso"

"Mafioso" was released in 1962. But if it wasn't for the telltale signs - the tailfin cars, the black-and-white cinematography, the Kennedy-era wardrobe - it could easily pass for a film made today.

Few films age more flawlessly than this one, in part, because its subject matter is something American cinema has been obsessed with since "The Godfather."

Alberto Lattuada's classic, made 10 years before Francis Ford Coppola's epic, is labeled a black comedy, and although audiences may not laugh more than a half-dozen times, they will be fascinated by this early, seemingly realistic glimpse at gangland sensibilities in Sicily.

Alberto Sordi gives a winsome but ultimately mournful central performance. Sordi is Antonio Badalamenti, a mid-level manager at a Milan car factory. He's got a great life: the respect of his co-workers, a nice car, a nice apartment, beautiful blonde wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and two adorable daughters.

His parents have never met his wife and girls, so he takes his ladies on a two-week vacation to rural Sicily, where he grew up. A co-worker, hearing of the trip, asks Antonio to deliver a package to a local man, Don Vincenzo. When Antonio agrees, his fate is sealed. He does not see this, so naive is he about the charms of his hometown.

And his town is charming, although backward regarding Marta's clothing and behaviors. The scenery is lovely, the climate flawless and the food delicious. But there are ominous signs. Many of Antonio's old acquaintances are dead, missing, in prison or shunned.

Antonio falls in with his old friends, one thing leads to another, and by the time Antonio realizes he is in too deep, it is too late. What happens after has to be seen to be believed; not even contemporary mobster movies have done anything like this.

"Mafioso" is being re-released nationwide by Rialto Pictures, which takes underappreciated foreign classics and brings them to a wider audience; last year it released "Army of Shadows."

"Mafioso" certainly deserves this release, but it's not surprising it did not travel well in 1964, when it was originally released in the United States. The pre-ratings system Hays Code usually frowned upon crime without consequence.

But Sordi shows in his face - which shifts from jocularity to horror to regret - that there are consequences to these crimes. They are buried inside his heart, which will regret forever going back to a town he loved and thought he knew.