“The Traitor” ( Il traditore) (Amazon)

This latest addition to the Mafia genre (recommended by mia nuora, Dr. Vitale) was released last year to mixed reviews. Its subject is Tomaso Buscetta, Sicilian mafia boss and Pentito. Essentially the equivalent of turning state’s evidence here, the term pentiti was created to describe Mafia informers. Buscetta is a fascinating character who sees himself as embodying the family values of the Cosa Nostra and not those of the Mafia that evolved in the 70’s. That was the big issue in The Godfather. Remember how the old guard, the Costa Nostra, did not want to get involved with drug trafficking? And according to Buscetta, the Cosa Nostra’s code included not murdering children or other innocents. Much of the film focuses on his relationship with Judge Giovanne Falcone who spent most of his professional life trying to destroy the Sicilian Mafia. He was assassinated in 1992.

The Italian judicial system is quite different from any I have ever seen (only in movies I should add). It seems to be “inquisitorial” and the accused are in some kind of cage in the back of the room. For one trial Buscetta sat in a glass case. Everyone is yelling at everyone else. The judge’s plea for “silenzio” is often met with jeers. Cigar smoking, aggressive nudity, threats, among other chaotic behaviors all seem part of the proceedings. The accused get to “interrogate” their accuser. A similar film, the Sicilian Girl chronicles the same behavior. In that one, also, a true story in the same time period, a teen breaks from her Mafia family to testify after both her father and brother are murdered by rivals. For some reason the critics didn’t like this one as much. But I found both fascinating.

“The Traitor” is not “The Godfather” (which, of course I love), nor is it “The Irishman” (yawn). It is an entirely different genre. But I highly recommend it for its: great acting, fascinating character study, and its examination of the forces that shape Buscetta’s world view. It has some great moments of absurdist, dark humor imbedded in a “surreal reality”.

Check out this short video of the director Marco Bellocchio talking about the film.

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