Marco Bellocchio’s award-winning anti-Mafia film “The Traitor” will open at the Century Center Cinema, 2826 N. Clark St., Chicago, on Feb. 7. For tickets and more information, click here.
The real-life tale stars Pierfrancesco Favino as Tommaso Buscetta, the man who dealt a career blow to organized crime in Sicily in the 1980s.
Favino is no stranger to American audiences. In addition to the Italian blockbusters that have made it to our shores, including Gabriele Muccino’s “The Last Kiss,” Roberto Ando’s “The Confessions,” and Ferzan Ozpetek’s “Saturn in Opposition,” he’s had significant parts in several American productions. Among them are Ron Howard’s “Angels and Demons,” Spike Lee’s “Miracle at St. Anna” and a cameo as Christopher Columbus in “Night at the Museum.” He even gave us a tour of Rome via his Vespa for CBS This Morning during the Papal conclave of 2013. To every character he becomes, Favino brings his signature humility and grace, making them both passionate and vulnerable, and above all unforgettable.
His latest film made its American premiere at the 57th New York Film Festival in October and is Italy’s entry for the Academy Awards. Directed by Marco Bellocchio, “Il Traditore” (The Traitor) is the true story of mafia informant Tommaso Buscetta. The role is arguably the most important of Favino’s career. “It’s a tragic journey of a man,” Favino told us while he was presenting the film in New York. “Of course, there are all of the ingredients of the mafia movie, but I really like the way Marco portrayed it because those people are not glamorous as we’re used to seeing. There’s nothing cool about them. Gunshots are real gunshots. There’s nothing that is action movie-driven. It’s a very unique way of looking at the inner life of this man.”
Tommaso Buscetta was born and raised in Palermo. The youngest of 17 children, he was the only member of the family to get involved with organized crime. He quickly moved up in the ranks and went beyond the confines of Sicily to work in Brazil and New York during his dealings with the Gambino crime family. Everything changed in 1982, after two of Buscetta’s sons were murdered. Overcome by grief, he decided to break the code of silence. He did it during the tumultuous 1980s when the violence of La Cosa Nostra crippled Palermo. Referred to as the Maxi Trial, Buscetta’s testimony eventually led to the incarceration of some 400 mafiosi.
“What he was trying to do through this collaboration with the authorities was not due to a change of heart but because he was forced by circumstances. His mafia adversaries were starting to wipe out all of his family, so he was really desperate with no other way out,” explained director Marco Bellocchio during a Q & A after the premiere in New York.
The film takes place over several decades, and the actor ages accordingly, with the changes going far beyond the work of the talented makeup artists. Buscetta slows down, he becomes terminally ill and all those years of mental and physical abuse catch up with him. “He wanted to look elegant, but there was something about his body that would always tell you the contrary. For example, he had broken fingers because of the tortures. So, the way he uses his hands is very particular,” Favino recounted. “He died of cancer in 2000, and that cancer hit his muscles. So I started to lose weight for the end of the movie.”
Italian filmmakers have told countless stories of the mafia through the decades, but they have a very different perspective from their American counterparts. “We’ve done several mafia movies, and what’s dangerous is thinking that it’s only a movie genre. For us, it’s not. It has a big importance in our history,” Bellocchio says. “It’s something I’m not really proud of as an Italian. So in this case, we’re telling the story of a guy who helped our heroes, giving us the possibility of seeking the truth for our country.”
A documentary recently made about Buscetta’s life, “Our Godfather: The Man the Mafia Could Not Kill,” is available on iTunes and Netflix.