Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mafioso (1962)

Sicilian Antonio in Mafioso takes his Northerner wife Marta to meet the family. They sit down and eat and eat and eat. Marta lights a cigarette, and everyone stares--they'd never seen a woman smoke. She explains she likes to have one after a meal, and they all burst into laughter: that was merely the first course. A pile of squid-inked spaghetti comes out, there under the hot sun, and the meal must continue.

Antonio crows his joy at such abbondanza--but for Marta it's just Sicily always giving you more than you really want. And his family treats her coldly, the Sicilian flat look delivered without active malice, just a habit of being. However, they eventually figure out what they want from her--pliability so that they can work out their own schemes--against their own son, no less--so they cozy up and win her over.

Antonio, however, is not excused from the table, and has to take extra helpings, until he himself is dressed and trussed and arranged on the platter for the old men who stare him down by muttering, "honor"--but he has no choice, and thus no honor. Mafioso works surprisingly well as a prelude to the ethics of The Godfather, in which the world beyond Sicily is alien, even the rest of Italy, and the illusion of family masks inherited grudges and dogged greed. Antonio's time away had appeared to him something he'd really made, something he could live in--but on his return he finds that he hasn't made anything, that it had been some silly dress-up game, that Sicily was always the only real thing in his life.

And all he can do is obey and be dismayed, the life he'd prepared as a successful businessman in the comfortable boot of Italy now dry chalk in his throat. You can see it on his face once more at the end, as he takes another walk through his factory, everything still purposefully clamoring, his co-workers still admiring him--never guessing that a miserable, dead criminal smiles at them, holds a clipboard to his chest and disappears into his Milanese disguise.

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