Review: 'Mafioso' gets with mob mentality 

In this anti-renaissance where the popular comedy has become a tediously familiar, implausibly sunny, insultingly dumb commodity, "Mafioso," a dark Italian mob tale released in 1962, plays like a fresh and singular marvel.

Revived and restored, the film is a pleaser that, with its emotive families, blood bonds and unrefusable offers, proves in sync with the current Mafia-as-entertainment craze. It also, more significantly, touches on deeper truths with a cynicism that makes today’s edgiest indies look wimpy.

Alberto Lattuada (1914-2005), a postwar director with both theatricality and neorealism on his palette, serves up something between "The Godfather" and "Married to the Mob" in this tonally evolving farce. It begins as a mildly amusing culture-clash romp, then turns, grippingly, into somewhat of a horror story.

Antonio (Alberto Sordi), a self-important Milan Fiat-plant foreman, takes his modern, blond wife, Marta (Norma Bengell), and their two daughters on a vacation to his hometown in Sicily, land of dark-haired, expressive bumpkins, humongous meals, and many a corpse who "dug his own grave." While Marta struggles to understand Antonio’s traditional family, Antonio quickly becomes Sicilian again. He sheds his northern rigidity and, in the movie’s funniest moment, breaks operatically into song. He also, however, reconnects with the local Mafia don (Ugo Attanasio). Having once assisted the now-upright Antonio, the capo maneuvers to rope him back in.

As revived oldies go, this isn’t genius. Its caricatures of peasants and its material involving Antonio’s mustached sister clunk. Its depiction of women is dated. But the mix of mobster dynamics and emigre experiences served up by Lattuada and four screenwriters makes for a satisfying visit to Mafiadom and a perceptive look at the overwhelming grip of roots.

Lattuada, known largely on these shores for his collaborations with Fellini, demonstrates top-notch steerage and gear-shifting as he takes Antonio from obliviousness to awakening to terror, with the latter passage — set in New York — dark enough to suggest a small-scale version of Michael Corleone’s Mafia beginnings. The grimness doesn’t make the movie less entertaining; it enriches things. The ending, reflecting the dark-comedic core, resonates.

The film also features extraordinary work by Sordi, both matinee idol and acclaimed actor in his day. Like many superb comic protagonists, his Antonio is a tragic figure beneath the foolery. And as Sordi’s communicative eyes register everything from his initial overconfidence to his eventual whopping realizations, you recognize that you’re watching a full-spectrum, terrific movie character.

Mafioso ***

Starring Alberto Sordi, Norma Bengell, Ugo Attanasio

Written by Rafael Azcona, Marco Ferreri, Agenore Incrocci, Furio Scarpelli; based on a story by Bruno Caruso

Directed by AlbertoLattuada

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Playing at The Lumiere

In Italian with English subtitles

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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