It Was the Son

"Son" plays like a parody of an Italo pic, furthering the peninsula's diminishing rep on the international cinema scene.

With: Toni Servillo, Giselda Volodi, Alfredo Castro, Fabrizio Falco, Aurora Quattrocchi, Benedetto Raneli, Piero Misuraca, Giacomo Civiletti, Alessia Zammitti, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio. (Italian, Sicilian dialect dialogue)

Somewhere in the depths of Daniele Cipri’s distressingly broad tragicomedy “It Was the Son” lies a rebuke against venality and the facade of family relationships. However, uncovering that seed beneath the pointless stereotypes, wasted scenes and denatured colors is hardly worth the effort. There’s a great idea here: By cashing in on the accidental death of their daughter, a family shows that blood ties are merely brittle conduits for monstrous selfishness. Yet rather than functioning as a stinging satire, “Son” plays like an annoying parody of an Italo pic, furthering the peninsula’s diminishing rep on the international cinema scene.

Local play is more difficult to gauge, since Italy has long had a healthy affection for grandiose characters. But even in average films of the past, helmers used caricature to capture something real about the Italian psyche, whether positive or negative. Stereotypes embraced the Everyman and, in their very excess, functioned as either salutary mocking or affectionate ribbing; they may not be real people, but auds cared and projected their lives onto the screen. Cipri instead populates his pic with cruel mockeries and broad absurdities that offer nothing but overkill.

The great Toni Servillo delivers an astonishingly complete performance, as always, but in his loud, abrasive, avaricious impersonation of protag Nicola Ciraulo, he merely exposes the film’s malicious conception of southern Italian working-class stereotypes. There’s so little real emotion here that the tragedy at the pic’s heart is shrugged off by the characters and the audience.

Sometime in the unspecified past (tea-stained colors suggest the early ’70s), the Ciraulo family of suburban Palermo scrapes by on Nicola’s shipyard scrap-metal scavenging. He’s constantly disparaging his slow-witted dreamer of a son, 20-year-old Tancredi (Fabrizio Falco), wishing he’d be more like cousin Masino (Piero Misuraca), a swaggering mobster-in-the-making. Nicola’s wife, Loredana (Giselda Volodi), does little to protect her son from the hectoring.

Then their headstrong daughter, Serenella (Alessia Zammitti), is accidentally killed in a botched Mafia rub-out; screams of grief leave viewers unmoved, since these are merely semblances of people. Nicola’s friend Giovanni (Giacomo Civiletti) tells him he should apply for Mafia victim compensation, and the Ciraulos are rewarded a healthy sum, wiping away any pretense of sorrow. Convinced the money will arrive soon (are they really Italian?), the family runs up enormous debts in local credit, forcing Nicola to go to a loan shark.

When the funds finally come, the family, including Gramps (Benedetto Raneli) and Grandma Rosa (Aurora Quattrocchi), suggest ways to put it to good use, but Nicola has his heart set on one thing: a Mercedes. With a Mercedes, they can be big shots, pushing Serenella’s memory even further away.

All this is framed within a poorly incorporated present, in which Busu (Pablo Larrain regular Alfredo Castro, dubbed) sits in a post office, telling the Ciraulo story to anyone willing to listen. Toward the end there’s a sudden shift in tone and the satirical bite missing for more than 80 minutes is suddenly felt, making sense of Busu’s presence. But it’s not enough to retroactively turn the film into a devastating, or at least humorous, dissection of a society blithely willing to sacrifice kin for fleeting comfort.

“Son” is peppered with numerous scenes and characters that go nowhere: A musical number seems lifted from another pic, while conversations cut off by passing trains have no function. Cipri is a fine d.p. with impressive credits, though apart from the dull colors of the Ciraulo scenes and the brighter tones of the present, the visuals leave little distinguishing marks here. Carlo Crivelli’s compositions are an odd mix of Nino Rota and Maurice Ravel (supplemented by baroque orchestrations), fitting into a traditional Italian satirical vibe. The Apulian city of Brindisi and outskirts fill in for Palermo.

It Was the Son


Production: A Fandango (in Italy) release of a Passione, Rai Cinema presentation of a Passione, Babe Films production, in collaboration with Rai Cinema, Palomar, in association with Aleteia Communication, Faro Film. (International sales: Rai Trade, Rome.) Produced by Alessandra Acciai, Giorgio Magliulo, with Carlo degli Esposti. Co-producer, Fabio Conversi. Directed by Daniele Cipri. Screenplay, Massimo Gaudioso, Cipri, in collaboration with Miriam Rizzo, loosely adapted from the novel by Roberto Alajmo.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Cipri, Mimmo Caiuli; editors, Francesca Calvelli, Alfredo Alvigini; music, Carlo Crivelli; production designer, Marco Dentici; costume designer, Grazia Cololombini; sound (Dolby Digital), Angelo Bonanni; line producer, Francesco Tato; assistant director, Lucille Cristaldi; casting, Cristaldi, Miriam Rizzo. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 1, 2012. Running time: 92 MIN.

Cast: With: Toni Servillo, Giselda Volodi, Alfredo Castro, Fabrizio Falco, Aurora Quattrocchi, Benedetto Raneli, Piero Misuraca, Giacomo Civiletti, Alessia Zammitti, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio. (Italian, Sicilian dialect dialogue)

More Scene

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. More Reviews Concert Review: Lady Gaga Outdoes Her Other Vegas Show With Masterful 'Jazz [...]

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content