Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 01, 2021 6:37 pm 
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A rather one-note satire of Italy's persistent loyalty to the mafia

The latest from political satirist Franco Maresco (Belluscone: A Sicilian Story, 2014) takes as its point of departure the 25th anniversary of the assassination of anti-Mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino during the Capaci and Via D’Amelio bombings. The filmmaker covers the streets of Palermo to poll residents on the two martyred magistrates, finding no sympathy for what they did or willingness to condemn Cosa Nostra.

Maresco's investigation quickly morphs into a satirical examination of Sicilian omertà - silent loyalty, popular complacency and stonewalling re the Cosa Nostra’s enduring power over the national psyche. Maresco may ridicule many of his on-screen subjects, yet The Mafia Is No Longer… is less of a prank than a persistant complaint.

Indeed while the film may be arch and satirical, it is so in a monotonous and repetitious manner. It's a joke that wears out very quickly and stays hovering there in our faces not finding much new to add. Maresco is showing the stupidity of his interviewees, but in doing so risks making his own film feel dim-witted.

There are some exceptions. One is the vigorous presence of 83-year-old photographer, Letitzia Battaglia, a spirited person with the wildly red-dyed hair to match. It is interesting to glimpse her fascinating career. While discussing with her about the shallow institutionalization of anti-mafia stances in Italian politics, Maresco again encounters Ciccio Mira, the shady Mafia-apologist concert organizer who was the focusof his 2014 satirical documentary Belluscone. Now apparently an altered man, Mira seems to be trying to redeem himself with a "Neomelodic" concert in Palermo in tribute of Falcone and Borsellino. However, his words still betray some nostalgia for the "good old Mafia that used to be. . ." Another hint that mafia loyalty never truly dies.

These points of interest are not enough to sustain an hour and forty-nine minutes of screen time. As veteran European film critic Boyd Van Hoeij puts it in his Hollywood Reporter review of this film, "like a lot of sequels, it’s repetitive and hollow as it tries to recapture what worked in the original while being forced to tell a new story so it doesn’t completely play like reheated leftovers."

Awarding the Festival's Jury Prize toThe Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be at Venice 2019 seems like an insider gesture that signals my inability to understand fully the resonances for locals of the issues treated here and the nuances of Maresco's satirical style. That is even signaled by the subtle ambiguity of the film title, La mafia non è più quella di una volta, with its strange vague nostalgia, a phrase that points to the Italian's persistent tergiversation around this subject, but feels enigmatic.

The Mafia Is No Longer What It Used to Be/La Mafia non è più quella di una volta , 109 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2019, winning the jury prize there. It showed also at Amsterdam and the From Rome to Paris Festival. Screened online for this review as part of the FLC Open Roads: New Italian Cinema series (May 28-Jun. 6, 2021).

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