Scripted by Pozzessere with Furio and Giacomo Scarpelli and Pietro Calderoni, who wrote the book on which the film is based, “Witness” recounts Nava’s bitter personal odyssey through the maddening bureaucracy and double-standards of a system that supposedly encourages constructive individual action in the fight against Cosa Nostra, but indirectly penalizes those who come forward. Ironically, the film underlines that in terms of witness protection, the only solid structures in place are those designed to shelter pentiti, Mafia turncoats.
Central to the drama is the interplay between three characters: Nava; his strained but supportive wife, Franca (Margherita Buy); and Sandro Nardella (Claudio Amendola), the police official assigned as Nava’s liaison who also becomes increasingly angry at the authorities’ apparent indifference. The couple and their children are shuffled from one isolated house to another, unable to contact their friends or family, while they sit out the interminable wait for the fake passports that will enable them to resume some kind of normal life in another country.
The eventual arrival of new papers, coupled with the frustration and financial difficulty of getting set up again with only minimal government assistance, makes a suitably hollow note on which to end. While this denies the film a dramatic final act, the absence serves to further distance Pozzessere’s measured approach from that of the hackneyed imperiled-witness thriller.
The film’s real core is Bentivoglio’s calm, controlled portrayal of a man who has been made a prisoner, undercranking both the character’s moral fortitude and most of the visible manifestations of the tension compromising his marriage and mental stability. Buy and especially Amendola provide strong support. Visually, the pic could have used more punch. Lenser Luca Bigazzi has gone for a gray, claustrophobic feel that makes sense given the subdued dramatic tone, but gives the film a rather flat look.