The Mafia Kills Only in Summer

July 4, 2015
Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif) in 'The Mafia Kills Only in Summer' (2013)
Pierfrancesco Diliberto (Pif) in 'The Mafia Kills Only in Summer' (2013)

To make a romantic comedy about the depredations of the Mafia in Sicily sounds like a recipe for cinematic oblivion. Could this be anything other than a grave error of taste and judgement? It might even prove dangerous if today’s crop of crime bosses took offence.

Pierfrancesco Diliberto, better known as Pif, has attempted this feat in his debut as a feature director, winning awards in the process. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer is not simply a romantic comedy it’s also a coming-of-age story set in Palermo. It follows the young Arturo (Alex Bisconti), from the moment of conception, to his school days, when he becomes hopelessly infatuated with a pretty blonde girl named Flora (Ginevra Antona).

In the second part of the film, the grown-up Arturo is played by Pif himself, who has become a dysfunctional, odd-jobbing reporter. The adult Flora (Cristiana Capotondi) has returned from years in Switzerland as the press secretary for an ambitious politician, and the old spark is reignited. But if Arturo junior is a minor prodigy, the elder version is a klutz who struggles to impress the object of his undying affections.

The backdrop to this saga of pre-and-post-pubescent romance is an historically accurate portrait of Palermo, a city wracked by mob violence, as mafia boss, Totò Riina (Antonio Alveario), set about slaughtering rival gangsters, judges and policemen. The movie introduces some of the victims, such as police chiefs, Boris Giuliano and Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, and takes us up to the assassination of Giovanni Falcone, who paid for his successs in bringing criminals to justice.

During Arturo’s childhood, everyone seeks to ignore or downplay the regular mob killings. There’s always an extenuating factor. One shouldn’t be concerned. Besides, as Arturo’s father tells him, the Mafia kill only in summer.

The gangsters themselves treat murder as a routine form of business, and here Pif’s jokes get very dark.

The running gag, which must have sent Italian audiences into hysterics, is the young Arturo’s veneration for Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti – a consummate political operator who was given more searching treatment in Paolo Sorrentino’s film Il Divo (2008).

Arturo admires Andreotti from a distance, taking his pronouncements at face value and even impersonating him at a school costume party. The fact that Andreotti’s links with the Mafia are now so well attested is the comic subtext to Arturo’s idolisation. The former PM survived prosecution in 2004 largely because the statute of limitations for his alleged offences had run out.

Pif, who is known in Italy as a TV satirist, performs a miraculous juggling act in getting the crime and politics into a story that teeters always on the brink of farce, with a love motif that would seem corny in any context. Despite the presence of the director in the lead role the adult characters are notably less engaging than their childhood counterparts. It is as if all the best writing has been expended on the early part of the story, while the second part hangs on Pif’s own persona – so familiar to Italian audiences – and the historical events of the early 1990s, when Sicilians took to the streets in angry protests against the gangsters and their compliant politicians.

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer is an impossible beast of a film, but it succeeds in bringing home the gravity of those protests, even as we watch Pif clowning his way through his passion for Flora. Those emerging Australian filmmakers who can’t seem to find a second dimension could learn a lot from this movie.

The Mafia Kills Only in Summer
Directed by Pif (Pierfrancesco Diliberto)
Written by Michele Astori, Pif & Marco Martani
Starring Pif, Cristiana Capotondi, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona, Claudio Gioè, Barbara Tabita, Rosario Lisma, Antonio Alveario
Italy, rated M, 90 mins

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 4th July, 2015.