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November 04, 2019

Denver Film Festival - The Traitor

the traitor.jpg

Il traditore
Marco Bellocchio - 2019
Sony Pictures Classics

In less than a week, November 9, the master Italian filmmaker, Marco Bellochio will be 80 years old. If one was unaware of Bellocchio, or how long he's been making films, one might easily mistake The Traitor as the work of a much younger man. Usually when I write about a film, I don't go for the easy superlatives that some alleged critics toss off, nor do I usually write the kind phrases known as pull-quotes that are usually seen in print advertisements. And yet, my immediate reaction to The Traitor is that it's the gangster epic we didn't know we were waiting for.

Let me first temper that by noting that I have yet to see Oldfellas The Irishman, and just maybe Scorsese's film is as good or somehow better. From it's opening scene of a celebration of a truce between two major crime families in Palermo, The Traitor made me think of The Godfather, but more fully embracing of being operatic, and having greater emotional heft. There is also the nod to the Italian produced gangster films, especially the more openly political docudramas such as Francesco Rosi's Lucky Luciano.

The film is based on the life of Tommaso Buscetta, a self-described "man of honor", a former member of the Cosa Nostra. Buscetta was the first crime family member to provide information on the workings of the Cosa Nostra in the 1980s. The traditional families in Sicily, with their very specific rules, were challenged by newer organizations that consolidated power primarily in heroin traffic, and had no qualms about the murder of extended family members including children, as well as government officials. Disillusioned following betrayal by one of the capos, and facing imprisonment, Buscetta works with Judge Falcone, putting his life and that of his family in greater danger.

Bellocchio frequently ties events together with ritual celebrations - weddings, funerals, the commemoration of a saint. The film cuts back to past events in Bruscetta's life that have future reverberations. Bellocchio even goes as far as using a bit of old fashioned symbolic montage, cutting between shots of the top Mafia boss about to be arrested and shots of a caged hyena. The sense of opera is in full force with Nicola Piovani's music against a shot taken from the interior of a car, hoisted mid-air in slow motion following the explosion of a bomb. The antics of the arrested gangsters on trial is reminiscent of similar scenes in Bellocchio's somewhat infamous Devil in the Flesh from 1986 which depicted trials of student activists.

The story of Tomasso Bruscetta has been filmed previously on a couple of occasions for Italian television, and Bellocchio has no problem in acknowledging that his new film travels on familiar turf - "Of course, we've all seen those masterpieces about the Mafia - The Godfather, for example, and also a number of Italian flicks. Nevertheless, it would have been a mistake to try to make something different at all costs. Therefore, all of the artists who were involved in creating the film, and I myself, afforded ourselves a lot of freedom in order to try to find our own voice, but we weren't afraid of trying something new or doing what had already been done."

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 4, 2019 07:58 AM