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Witness in Danger

"Witness in Danger" tells the true story of Piero Nava, who witnessed a Mafia hit on an Italian magistrate and refused to remain silent, paying with the loss of his home, job and identity to protect himself and his family. Director Pasquale Pozzessere fashions a tense thriller from the case, not with threats of Mob violence but with cool assessment of the nightmare of an honest man forced by circumstance to question the wisdom of his integrity. Solid performances and an intelligent script mark this small-scale drama, which could work on offshore TV. Fabrizio Bentivoglio plays Nava, an ordinary Milanese salesman who was driving along a Sicilian highway to make a professional call in Agrigento in 1990 when he saw two Mob hit men at the scene of Judge Rosario Livatino's assassination. He reported the incident to local police and subsequently identified the killers during the trial that led to their imprisonment for life.

With:
Piero Nava ... Fabrizio Bentivoglio Sandro Nardella ... Claudio Amendola Franca Nava ... Margherita Buy Cataldi ... Arnaldo Ninchi Turrini ... Maurizio Donadoni Luciani ... Carlo Cartier

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.

Witness in Danger

Italian

Production: A Medusa release in association with Istituto Luce (in Italy) of a Taodue Film, Istituto Luce production in association with Mediaset. (International sales: Sacis, Rome.) Produced by Pietro Valsecchi. Directed by Pasquale Pozzessere. Screenplay, Furio Scarpelli, Pietro Calderoni, Giacomo Scarpelli, Pozzessere, based on Calderoni's book, "L'Avventura di un Uomo Tranquillo."

Crew: Camera (Cinecitta color), Luca Bigazzi; editor, Carlo Valerio; music, Franco Piersanti; art direction, Francesco Frigeri; costume design, Lia Morandini; sound (Dolby) Mario Iaquone; associate producer, Luca Formenton; assistant director, Giovanni Vaccarelli. Reviewed at CDC screening room, Rome, Jan. 31, 1997. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: Piero Nava ... Fabrizio Bentivoglio Sandro Nardella ... Claudio Amendola Franca Nava ... Margherita Buy Cataldi ... Arnaldo Ninchi Turrini ... Maurizio Donadoni Luciani ... Carlo Cartier

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