Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso has the look and feel of an archived piece of dust-washed stone being hunted by Indiana Jones. Its black-and-white photography (pristine and peerless by any standards) and its leading man, the incomparable Alberto Sordi, are timestamps of a bygone era where style was a matter of pride. Yet, besides a brief run in the early '60s, no one has heard of Mafioso and little is known of its proficient director.
Due mostly to lack of access on DVD or reappraisal, Lattuada has become a cinematic specter; the kind of mythological beast of burden that is known for his capacity for brilliance but is unavailable to anyone interested enough to look him up. To date, Lattuada's only film to reach a Region 1 disc is Variety Lights, and that's only because his co-director happened to be some yutz named Fellini. With the re-release of this seminal work, however, Lattuada's recognition might just be raised from purgatory.
Walking through an opera house of whirling, wheezing machinery, Antonio Badalamenti (Sordi) plants his eyes to a clipboard, only looking up to bark a "get back to work" or the more predominant "be careful". He has a certain skip in his step; after years of slaving at a Fiat plant, he suddenly finds himself in the position of being able to travel from the suburban dead-calm of Milan to his ancestral home in Sicily, where all his family still resides. It will be the first time that his family meets his wife and children.
Upon arrival in Sicily, Antonio becomes a boisterous youth again, hugging and kissing his entire family with emphatic adoration. His old family, however, has little warmth for the new family he has made for himself; they snort at the blonde wife who knows nothing of his past. A once loyal part of a prominent Sicilian mob, Antonio lavishes an undying love and respect on Don Vincenzo (Ugo Attanasio), the aged leader of the mob. Easily manipulated by the forces at hand, Antonio is asked to handle a quick favor for his former employer and mentor, culling up the Sicilian ruffian that Badalamenti left when he started making cars.
In class dynamics, Mafioso infiltrates every facet of life, summing up the rudimentary boredom of the man from Milan while not turning a deaf ear to the crimes of the Sicilian assassin. The family Antonio has built is sanitized and lacks any flavor of his roots, doubly punctuated by the fact that he works for a manager from Trenton, New Jersey. His relatives are a loopy mix of grotesque dishevelment and unfathomable loyalty, which includes an amputated father and a sister with a faint mustache. What Lattuada crafts here is a rousing mix of humor and melancholic drama, meant to acquit neither side of Antonio's life, past or present. Sure, there's murdering and crime afoot, but there's a sense of history to the deeds being asked to be performed, a timeless sense of cold-blooded honor. That Lattuada is able to mix this in with the perverse humor of Antonio's parents and relatives is a testament to a forgotten talent, who left us in 2005 at the age of 90. Like Jean-Pierre Mellville's shattering Army of Shadows, here's a film that shows off ability and surprise while making it all seem as simple as a drive back home after a long day at the plant.