Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Godfather of "The Godfather": Alberto Lattuada's "Mafioso" Opens in NYC

One of the things that annoy me about many of the film reviews I read and see on TV at this time of year is the constant voicing of the conventional wisdom that January and February are the doldrums of the movie year, and there's nothing worth seeing until the summer and fall. This sort of propaganda perpetuated by many mainstream film reviewers only serves to further expose their eagerness to play into the hands of marketers and PR agents, contributing to the sorry state of discourse on movies in our major media outlets. While it is true that many unambitious, bottom-feeder studio releases are released at this time (often without being screened for critics) the fact is, especially if you live in a major city, that there are always films worth seeing if you're willing to put in a little effort to search them out.

Case in point: Alberto Lattuada's brilliant and entertaining 1962 comedy/thriller Mafioso, opening in New York this weekend at the Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika. Lattuada was a major Italian director who made films from the 40's through the 80's, and has been overshadowed by his more celebrated peers, including Federico Fellini, with whom Lattuada co-directed Variety Lights. However, on the evidence of Mafioso, Lattuada is a figure worthy of rediscovery, and this film is a great introduction to its director. Mafioso is a clear antecedent to The Godfather, but it is no mere historical curio, and has great charms and interest on its own terms.

The great character actor Alberto Sordi is riveting as an auto factory foreman who takes his wife and children to his hometown in Sicily, where he reunites with his large and hilariously expressive family, shrugs off his northern refinement, and reverts to the accent and old acquaintances of his southern life. A darker side emerges, and the film shifts from its initial comic tone as he learns he has to fulfill certain family-based obligations. In deference to the wishes of Rialto Pictures, the film's distributor, I won't reveal more than that. Just know that if you are in New York (it opens next week in LA, and in more cities to come), it most likely is the most entertaining film out there now, and that this is the year's first major re-discovery, of which I hope there is many more to come.

My Meniscus Magazine review
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
Philip Lopate (Film Comment)
Donato Totaro on the films of Alberto Lattuada (Offscreen)

Mafioso trailer:

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