Solid and absorbing, “The Man of Glass” reps a timely return to a single narrative for helmer Stefano Incerti, whose most recent pics played with multiple storylines, with varying results. Based on the true story of a Sicilian man driven by guilt to reveal the workings of the local Mafia, pic is a valuable primer on how living with the Mob demands certain codes of behavior, and how breaking those rules leads to horrific consequences. Maintaining audience interest in a madman is always difficult, but pic is strong enough to proudly participate in fests looking for Italo fare.
Disappointing local opening could be blamed on timing: Serious homegrown flicks tend not to play too well in the summer. Pity, since “The Man of Glass” deserves better — pic received the script award at Taormina and could certainly garner further critical kudos if more attention is paid.
Despite the idyllic romance between Leonardo Vitale (David Coco) and Anna (fresh-faced Elaine Bonsangue), something isn’t quite right: Why would he need a rifle to prevent neighbors from stealing lemons from the family orchard? Nice Uncle Titta (Tony Sperandeo) calms him down with words about respect and appropriate behavior.
Strong-armed into lending some hoods his car, Leonardo finds himself arrested on suspicion of participating in a kidnapping (not all that uncommon in Italy during the early 1970s). Telling the cops what really happened turns out to be a pretty bad idea when the Mob gets wind of his blabbing and threatens him from the inside. A not-so-innocent Uncle Titta tries to protect him, but the terrified Leonardo thinks only a complete confession of his past to the police will relieve his anxieties.
Everyone on the outside assumes Leonardo’s claims of murder and the Mob are the ravings of a madman; the family, of course, knows differently, and Titta explains to Leonardo’s mother Rosalia (Anna Bonaiuto) that they have to make everyone believe her son is crazy. A stint in an asylum seems to do the trick, but then he’s off again, this time straight to magistrate Angelo Saitta (Tony Palazzo) with information on the entire Mafia hierarchy. As in “Hamlet,” the question becomes: Is Leonardo truly nuts, or is he pretending? And if he is bonkers, how reliable are his claims?
Incerti does a terrific job subtly delineating how everyday life is circumscribed by Mafia rules — there’s no greater sin than talking to the wrong people, and not even a mother’s protection is enough to staunch the consequences. There are a few missteps: A beach sex scene doesn’t work, and the tired device of a lunatic posing as a psychiatrist is far too hoary.
Helmer’s biggest problem is keeping interest high in a character who’s becoming increasingly loony, babbling about religion and cutting a cross into his torso. Thankfully, Coco is just about up to the task, and he’s surrounded by such expert thesps as Sperandeo and the always magnetic Bonaiuto.
Period feel is nicely captured through color, lighting and art direction, without drowning in verisimilitude. Cecilia Zanuso’s smooth editing understands how to build tension (especially good when Saitta hesitantly turns the key in his ignition), unlike Andrea Guerra’s omnipresent music, which overwhelms far too many scenes.
The real Leonardo Vitale was held in a psychiatric hospital for 11 years, and then whacked a few months after his release. Mafia prosecutor Giovanni Falcone, himself a tragic victim of the Mob’s wrath, is quoted at the end, paying tribute to Vitale’s importance in the fight against organized crime in Sicily.