The Mafia Only Kills in Summer is a black comedy/drama about la cosa nostra that marks the promising directorial debut of Italian television personality Pif. I reviewed it for Cine-File when it played at Facets back in April — at a time when a lot of American critics were treating it as nothing more than lightweight, sub-Benigni piffle. I still think that, in spite of its surface accessibility and sentimentality, there’s a lot more going on than most stateside critics gave it credit for.
Pierfrancesco Diliberto’s THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER (New Italian)
Films produced outside the U.S. that qualify as mainstream entertainment are in such short supply in American movie theaters today that many Americans are under the mistaken impression that “foreign films” and “art films” are somehow synonymous. It is therefore refreshing to see a popular Italian comedy like THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER receiving U.S. distribution even if, in spite of the movie’s broad comedic and sentimental flourishes, the requisite English subtitles guarantee that it will be relegated to the arthouse ghetto. Television personality-turned-filmmaker Pierfrancesco Diliberto (better known as “Pif”) co-wrote, directed and stars in this first feature, a winning satire set in his native Palermo that daringly uses the city’s high-profile mafia wars from the 1970s through the 1990s as the real backdrop to a fictional love story. The premise is that Arturo (played by Alex Bisconti as a child and Pif as an adult) is a naïve klutz and aspiring journalist whose lifelong pursuit of his ideal, the beautiful Flora (Ginevra Antona/Cristiana Capotondi), is mirrored at every turn by real mob hits, the aftermath of which is frequently shown in archival news clips. Such jarring juxtapositions of silly comedy and gruesome tragedy have invited criticisms of bad taste but the more the film goes on, the more one realizes that its deceptively cloying, FORREST GUMP-esque approach to history conceals an expression of genuine rage towards mafiosi who perpetrate acts of senseless violence as well as the politicians and ordinary citizens of Palermo who turn a blind eye toward them. In the end, THE MAFIA ONLY KILLS IN SUMMER is not only an entertaining film but an important act of political defiance; among the closing credits is a statement that the film was made without paying “protection money,” an anomaly in Sicily where the “Cosa Nostra” still extorts hundreds of millions of dollars from local businesses annually. (2013, 90 min, Unconfirmed Format) MGS