A passionate story of adulterous love gains exotic fascination against the backdrop of Palermo’s mafia, where the mob’s unbreakable code of honor subs for fate in a Greek tragedy. Based on a true story and shot in actual locations by helmer Roberta Torre (“Tano to Die For”), “Angela” succeeds where more superficial, action-oriented mafia pictures fail, creating a fully believable criminal microcosm in which the characters can be amusingly kitschy in their 1984-era striped suits and gold chains but still emotionally credible. Stage thesp Donatella Finocchiaro, here making an outstanding screen debut, holds together the film’s nervous energy with a tense balance of feelings and restraint. Pic should mark the first critical and box office hit for the Rita Rusic Co. since the producer split from Cecchi Gori, and after making a splashy premiere in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight it has all the credentials for a popular Italo export item.
Torre makes a significant leap forward from her first two over-the-top musical comedies set in Palermo’s underworld (“Tano”) and immigrant communities (“Sud Side Story”). As inventively daring as they were, they created and exhausted the micro-genre of Sicilian musicals in just two films. “Angela” takes its inspiration from the same run-down neighborhoods and disreputable streets, but incorporates them into a dramatic framework of human emotion.
Angela is introduced working in her shoe store, attractively feminine in a vulgar, street-smart way. Her carefully controlled, deadpan reactions mark her as a savvy member of her husband Saro’s (Mario Pupella) gang. Though much younger than he, she is bound to him by real affection, not just the jewelry he showers on her. She stuffs packets of drugs into her shoeboxes and occasionally even helps with deliveries, though many of Saro’s cohorts frown on a woman taking a hands-on role in the business.
The local cops are paid off, ganglords are in balance, and operations are running smoothly when handsome Masino (Andrea Di Stefano) comes to work for Saro. Angela can’t take her eyes off the young gangster. They fight back their attraction but one night, when Saro is away, passions explode. Angela, always so serious when doing business, is a generous and uninhibited lover; Masino, who has a reputation as a ladies’ man, falls for her head over heels.
Amazingly, Saro and his gang sense nothing about what’s going on under their noses, perhaps trusting too much in the iron-clad rules of honor that binds mafia wives slavishly to their men. It is only when the police raid the shoe store and arrest the whole gang that their affair is brought to light. Among the wiretaps are incriminating phone calls between Angela and Masino. Investigators offer to destroy them if she cooperates, but true to the code she lives by, Angela refuses to save herself by having others arrested.
The consequences of her decision are played out in the film’s final scenes, where the atmosphere turns to poignant melancholy, underlined by Andrea Guerra’s fine lyrical score.
Boss and murderer though he be, Pupella wins strong sympathy as the betrayed husband who loves Angela to the end but whose rules forbid him to forgive her. Di Stefano, seen in Bellocchio’s “The Prince of Homburg,” is a seductive rake of a lover, who demonstrates more courage in love than in killing. Sicilian filmmaker and cinematographer Daniele Cipri makes a major contribution to the film’s nervous, ever-wary camerawork, using of a dark lighting style that never relents.