Having been anointed by the national film critical caucus as the next great hope of cutting-edge Italian independent cinema, short-film and videomaker Roberta Torre has high expectations riding on her first feature. A stylistically audacious trash-musical about the Sicilian Mafia, “Tano da morire” amply delivers in terms of freshness, ideas and inventiveness. While too loose and unstructured for wide theatrical play, the film’s colorful visuals, anarchic approach and goofy humor should steer it to extensive fest duty.
Pumped full of bullets in his butcher shop by an envoy from a rival clan during the Mafia wars of 1988, meticulously blow-dried Palermo Mobster Tano Guarrasi (Ciccio Guarino) is mourned by his mousy wife, four unmarried sisters and his daughter. But in truth, his death represents a kind of liberation for the women from his obsessive jealousy, especially for his sassy sister Franca (Mimma D. De Rosalia).
With running commentary from a chorus of Mafia matrons, or “women of honor,” being coifed at the local hairdressers for Franca’s wedding two years later, the film recaps Tano’s life and crimes. Often staged like cheesy revue acts, the episodes recount his violent defense of his sisters’ virtue, his induction into the Cosa Nostra ranks with an emotional song crooned by the local Don (Vincenzo Di Lorenzo), and his celebration of mob life in “We’re the Mafia,” an amusing 1970s disco number performed by effeminate, bejeweled underworld chorus boys.
Like so many musicals, this one has a great love at its center that goes beyond life into death, the sibling bond between Tano and Franca. Her wedding ceremony and reception are haunted by visions of her brother, and as champagne corks pop, the festivities are interrupted by gunmen who turn the party into a blood bath. The legend that follows attributes the killings to Tano, claiming he came back from the grave to protect the virginity of his beloved sis.
Humor is inconsistent, and the film suffers from lack of shape and fluidity, playing more like a series of disjointed sketches. But there are more than enough high points to compensate. These include a duet between Tano and his daughter (Francesca Di Cesare, one of the few real singers), in which he places the plump frump out of bounds to boys, and the catchy title song (which means “Tano to Die For”), a major production number in the fish market of Palermo’s tough Vucciria quarter.
While they are employed a little too frugally, the original songs by ’70s Neapolitan pop star Nino D’Angelo are fun, varying in style from samba to rock and rap; choreography is appealingly inelegant.
Key contributions to the film’s look come from designers Claudio Russo and Fabrizio Lupo and costumer Antonella Cannarozzi, who have created original visual gimmicks on a skimpy $ 1.5 million budget. End credits are especially eye-catching, and reveal the professions of the non-pro cast-members. For the record, the two stars, Guarino and De Rosalia, are, respectively, a baker and a nurse.