×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Mafia Is Not What It Used to Be’

An abrasive and pandering mockumentary whose endlessly repetitive setups and headache-inducing voiceover is strictly for local audiences.

Director:
Franco Maresco
With:
Letizia Battaglia, Ciccio Mira

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10673846/reference

The films of director Franco Maresco (“Belluscone: A Sicilian Story”) are an acquired taste, rarely developed by non-Italian palates, and “The Mafia Is Not What It Used to Be” is a prime example. Playing in the nether regions separating documentary and fiction, Maresco is a humorist who expresses his frustration at Italian politics with absurdism — a legitimate response given how surreal some of the situations can be. His style, however, is abrasive and pandering, while his voice acts as a near constant accompaniment as he “interviews” characters whose benighted pro-Berlusconi attitudes (as in his last film) or complacency about the Mafia, as here, are played as farce. Though the word “mockumentary” is oddly rarely applied to Maresco’s exasperating movies, there’s every sign his subjects are scripted; if they weren’t, his manner of ridiculing these people would be offensive. “Mafia” is strictly for locals.

Here’s the setup: In 2017, on the 25th anniversary of the assassinations of anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, Maresco takes his camera to the streets of Palermo to gauge popular opinion on the two men widely revered as martyrs (their murders are referenced in scores of Italian films and documentaries, including most recently Marco Bellocchio’s “The Traitor”). His muse is Letizia Battaglia, the cheeky 83-year-old photographer whose images recording the fight against the Mafia have earned her worldwide recognition. The rabble he speaks to are all aggressive when the subject is brought up, or they merely shrug their shoulders, dismissing the men’s sacrifice and thereby enabling the Cosa Nostra.

While Battaglia comes away depressed by the banality of the commemorations, Maresco goes to speak with Francesco “Ciccio” Mira, the erstwhile Z-grade showman who’s also an important part of “Belluscone.” Mira puts together shows for local street fairs and low-budget TV featuring a motley assortment of talentless entertainers like Cristian Miscel, a wannabe singer incapable of enunciating or carrying a tune. Taking advantage of the anniversary, Mira and his producer Matteo Mannino organize an event featuring his usual crew, but when Maresco presses them to say, “Down with the Mafia!” during the show, Mira evades answering and Mannino keeps repeating “No comment.”

It’s highly unlikely anyone outside Italy will find much amusement in the repetitive situations or Maresco’s headache-inducing voiceover (let’s not even get into Miscel’s caterwauling). No one can accuse the director of subtlety, though he’d likely counter that the subject doesn’t warrant pussyfooting about. While that may be true, there have been intelligent satires, like those of Sabina Guzzanti, that use surreal humor to attack Mafia apologists and Cosa Nostra collaborators in the highest ranks of government. At the movie’s end, Maresco’s anger at public complacency reaches all the way to the top when he slyly accuses President Sergio Mattarella (whose brother was killed by the Mafia) of suspiciously remaining quiet after Italian courts revealed links between politicians and the Cosa Nostra. If he wants to make an accusation, he should find a better vehicle to do so.

Whenever Mira appears, the screen shifts from color to black and white in a reference to a 1990s TV show Maresco made with Daniele Ciprì, but that’s the sort of information to tickle hardcore fans rather than a broader public. Perhaps they’re the same audience who’ll be amused by the way the film makes fun of an endless number of loutish “bystanders” and minor Palermo cult celebrities; it is remarkable that Maresco manages to find only the most cretinous peasant faces as subjects for his mocking lens.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Mafia Is Not What It Used to Be'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 6, 2019. Running time: 110 MIN. (Original title: “La Mafia non è più quella di una volta”)

Production: (Italy) An Istituto Luce Cinecittà release (in Italy) of an Ila Palma, Dream Film, Tramp Lmd prod., in association with Moretti & Petrassi Holding, Amateru, Il Saggiatore, Daring House, in collaboration with Okta Film, Avventurosa. (Int'l sales: Fandango, Rome.) Producers: Rean Mazzone, Anna Vinci, Daniele Moretti, Paolo Quaregna, Nicola Picone, Attilio De Razza.

Crew: Director: Franco Maresco. Screenplay: Franco Maresco, Claudia Uzzo, Francesco Guttuso, Giuliano La Franca. Camera (color, b&w): Tommaso Lusena De Sarmiento. Editors: Francesco Guttuso, Edoardo Morabito. Music: Salvatore Bonafede.

With: Letizia Battaglia, Ciccio MiraMatteo Mannino, Cristian Miscel, Antonio Zecchin. (Italian, Sicilian dialect dialogue)

More Film

  • Mackenzie Davis Terminator Dark Fate

    ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the always-on TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Paramount Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “Terminator: Dark Fate.” Ads placed for the sci-fi action film had an estimated media value of $6.81 million through Sunday for 796 national ad airings [...]

  • Judy & Punch review

    Damon Herriman Stands Out as 'The Nightingale' and 'Lambs of God' Lead AACTA Nominations

    Dark thriller, “The Nightingale” and miniseries “Lambs of God” lead the pack at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. In nominations announced on Wednesday, they picked up 15 and 18 nods, respectively. Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale” was one of six films nominated in the best film category. With others including Mirrah Foulkes’ [...]

  • Daisy Ridley is Rey in STAR

    'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Scores Best First-Day Atom Ticket Sales for a 'Star Wars' Film

    Disney-Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker” has racked up the best first day of advance ticket sales for a “Star Wars” movie ticketed by Atom. Sales launched during the half time of ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Atom’s overall first-day record was set in April by Disney-Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame.” But “Star Wars: The Rise of [...]

  • Cardi B

    Cardi B Joins Vin Diesel in 'Fast & Furious 9'

    Cardi B has joined the cast of Universal’s “Fast & Furious 9” in an undisclosed role. It’s the rapper’s first movie part since her role as the stripper Diamond in STX’s drama “Hustlers.” Vin Diesel disclosed the casting Tuesday in a post on his Instagram account with a video that showed him and Cardi B [...]

  • James Wan

    Film News Roundup: James Wan's Horror Thriller 'Malignant' Gets August Release

    In today’s film news roundup, James Wan’s “Malignant” gets a late-summer release, a Rita Hayworth documentary is shooting and Women in Animation have announced diversity awards winners. RELEASE DATE Warner Bros. has set an Aug. 14 release date for James Wan’s horror thriller “Malignant.” Wan will direct the movie, based on a story by Wan [...]

  • Michael Shannon Benedict Cumberbatch Tuppence Middleton

    How Martin Scorsese Saved 'Current War' From Harvey Weinstein

    Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon finally gets to release his version of his long-in-the-making “The Current War.” The film, about the competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, was originally set to be distributed by the Weinstein Company after Harvey Weinstein recut it, much to Gomez-Rejon’s chagrin. To make matters worse, Weinstein premiered the movie at the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content