Muckraking helmer-performer Sabina Guzzanti is a modern-day Italian Ida Tarbell, fearlessly shining a light on the fetid body politic. “The State-Mafia Pact” is a natural continuation of her biting anti-Silvio Berlusconi docu-satire “Viva Zapatero!” with broader consequences, providing a step-by-step account of how the Italian government — including, but hardly limited to, Berlusconi — made a deal with the Mafia to gain and maintain power. Guzzanti doesn’t claim to uncover anything new: Her film, largely composed of re-enactments, is designed to illustrate, elucidate and hopefully shake up the locals. Offshore, “Pact” will be limited to Italo showcases, as the barrage of unfamiliar names will overwhelm most international auds.
Only the deliberately ignorant remain in the dark about ties between the government and the Mafia: The information Guzzanti sets out has been available from other sources, including Maurizio Torrealta’s 2002 expose, “La trattativa” (the Italian title of “Pact”). Yet as the director knows all too well, being vaguely aware, and having a guide to clarify the dizzyingly complex network of alliances, are two different things. This is where she steps in, gathering a group of actors together to re-create key moments that can then be linked into a damning whole.
The inspiration for the format comes from Elio Petri’s “Three Hypotheses on the Death of Giuseppe Pinelli,” an agitprop short from 1970 using thesps who first directly address the camera and then act out probable/possible events. Impressed by the method, Guzzanti assembled colleagues, each playing several roles, and shot in one studio, using green screens for shifting locales. The conceit is ideally suited to the cause, and its transparency makes “The State-Mafia Pact” a far more ethical docu-fiction than most of today’s fashionable genre-busters, which stage incidents while pretending truth and fiction are permeable terms.
Guzzanti begins with linchpin Gaspare Spatuzza (Enzo Lombardo), a Cosa Nostra hitman who turned state’s evidence after 11 years in the slammer. Spatuzza’s major revelation, after admitting to a slew of murders, was that he planted the bomb that killed anti-Mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino in 1992, thereby proving that low-level goon Vincenzo Scarantino (Sabino Civilleri) was, as suspected, simply the fall guy.
Borsellino’s murder, two months after the assassination of his colleague Giovanni Falcone, sent shockwaves throughout Italy and is often credited (as in “The Mafia Kills Only in the Summer”) with galvanizing the country against the Cosa Nostra. The truth, set out here, is far more insidious: The public outcry over these and other high-profile rubouts in the early 1990s made politicos fear they’d lose their cozy (and lucrative) sinecures. To forestall this, major figures in government, the judiciary and law enforcement made a deal with top Cosa Nostra player Bernardo Provenzano, in which the mobster offered up capo di tutti capi Toto Riina (charmingly nicknamed “the Beast”) to the feds, in exchange for protection and less public executions.
How does Berlusconi figure into all this? Back in the 1970s, when Italy was paralyzed by a slew of kidnappings, the media mogul asked the mob to guarantee his family’s safety. At least, that’s what the film says — backed, it must be added, by plenty of testimony. From this early unholy alliance sprang a lasting partnership, guided by Berlusconi’s close ally Marcello dell’Utri (Maurizio Bologna), the man instrumental in the formation of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, which plenty of Mafia “pentiti” say was the mob’s anointed ally.
For Italians, names like dell’Utri, a powerful senator now serving jail time, have the weight of decades of familiarity behind them. Outside the country, recognition dwindles significantly. It’s not a flaw of the film, but simply a reality that certain documentaries, or docu-fictions, have greater impact at home, especially when major figures are implicated, including presidents, mayors and police chiefs. Guzzanti, who also does her signature Berlusconi impersonation here, adds enough humor to season the bitter pill she’s doling out, but she’s not interested in sugarcoating the situation. Her bravery is commendable, yet there’s one more question she needs to tackle, deserving a docu all its own: Why does the Italian electorate continue to tolerate the cancerous carbuncle of Mafia-state alliances? The answer may be a lot darker than Berlusconi’s climb to power.
Tech credits are flawless, and the green-screen projections work a charm, simplifying the locales while maintaining visual interest. Shots of the troupe off to the side add to the commendable level of transparency, unapologetically presenting the actors as both performers and activists. Scattered talking heads increase the sense of authenticity.