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“Mafioso,” “The Italian”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “The Italian,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]


The mafia and comedy genres mingle more comfortably than they have any right to in Alberto Lattuada’s “Mafioso,” the latest reclamation project from Rialto Pictures, who no doubt hope to recreate the success of their last discovery, Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Army of Shadows.” They’ll likely come up a little short: though “Mafioso” is arguably a more compelling film, Lattuada doesn’t have Melville’s following or critical standing.

Alberto Sordi plays Antonio Badalamenti, the foreman of a FIAT plant in Northern Italy who returns to his childhood home of Sicily for the first time in eight years to introduce his wife Marta (Norma Bengell) and their two daughters to the rest of the family. The scenes of Antonio’s reunion with his kin is “Mafioso”‘s comedic highpoint, a manic episode of wailing and crying and spontaneous singing punctuated brilliantly by moments of absolute silence, as when Marta awkwardly presents a pair of gloves as a gift to Antonio’s father, who only has one hand.

Though Antonio’s delights in his reunion with his parents and alarmingly mannish sister (whose moustache is far thicker than my own), his happy homecoming slowly turns darker. The island “of the sun and Cyclops” (as Antonio calls it) is also the home to many mafia dons, including Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), who helped Antonio start his career in the north. Don Vincenzo plans to make him an offer he, as they say, cannot refuse. “You cannot leave your old friends behind,” one Sicilian tells Antonio.

Lattuada’s view of home and family is comedic but ultimately bittersweet; Antonio is so excited to show Marta his old stomping grounds and running buddies he is slow to notice the Don’s underhanded machinations (or his own family’s complicity in them). By the time he does, it’s too late to stop them. Antonio is the ultimate cog in the machine: at his job in the factory or amongst the picciotto in Sicily, he is a tiny part of an operation that completely controls his destiny. In the end, Antonio learns as much about Sicily as his wife does. “What can I say?” he tells Marta. “Everything’s changed.”

The existing high watermark for mafia comedies is probably that scene in “The Godfather” where Clemenza says “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.” So to say that “Mafioso,” a largely forgotten Italian production from 1962, is the funniest mafia movie I’ve ever seen isn’t exactly shocking praise. But it is true.

“Mafioso” open in New York on January 19th (official site).

“The Italian”

Italian in title only, this arty Russian drama by director Andrei Kravchuk blends contemporary orphan politics with “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Six-year-old orphan Vanya (Kolya Spiridonov) is chosen for adoption by a wealthy Italian couple (hence the tile), but he reconsiders his good fortune when the mother of a recently adopted friend comes looking for her son. Instead of accepting the adoption, Vanya decides to find his mother, which means sneaking out of the orphanage, and hopping a train to a city he’s never been, with little more than a street address and a name to go on.

The first half of the film is in the dreary details of Russian orphanage life: peeling paint, dripping water, secondhand clothes, and the double whammy of illiteracy and poverty. The weather is persistently gloomy — one establishing shot is so thick with fog you can barely see the orphanage fifteen feet in front of the camera — and the residents are gripped by an epidemic of seasonal affective disorder. In the second half, the focus shifts to a more conventional chase film, with Vanya’s dogged and inventive attempts to find his mother and stay ahead of the orphanage trying to track him down and return him to the Italians.

“The Italian” rests entirely on Spiridonov’s tiny, malnourished shoulders, and he gives a performance of such natural beauty that it would make child actors of the American variety bow their heads in collective shame. There isn’t much more to Kravchuk’s film than watching Spiridonov in action, but the kid puts on a JV master class. In another child actor’s hands, the sentimentality could overpower the story, and the irritatingly simplistic score could take away the emotional impact, but you just can’t take your eyes off that damn kid.

“The Italian” opens in limited release on January 19th (official site).

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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