The Traitor




This Italian biopic about a man's final twenty years plays as part gangster tale and part court drama.


Traitor, The   


The Italian director Marco Bellocchio is now an octogenarian but this latest work of his finds him on close to his best form. It is a bold, confident film which, starting in 1980, takes a look at subsequent key events in the history of the Sicilian mafia otherwise known as the Cosa Nostra. It does so from the viewpoint of one of its members, Tommaso Buscetta, who would become famous for being the first informant to reveal details confirming their activities, thus making him the traitor of the title. Nevertheless, what some people would see as his act of betrayal was motivated by his belief that the Corleonesi clan, a faction within it, had besmirched what he believed the Cosa Nostra had once stood for by dealing in heroin. Furthermore, the violence of the clan had led to several members of his family being murdered, two sons among them.


We follow Buscetta from Palermo to Rio de Janeiro where he would spend time in prison before being extradited back to Italy. There the chief of security, Judge Giovanni Falcone, would seek to persuade him to turn informer. Over time Buscetta would be fully won over to doing this and the growing bond between the two men is most persuasively portrayed. Buscetta's actions would put him in danger but he would receive a safe haven in America returning nevertheless to be a key witness in more than one court action in Italy. Indeed, what starts out as a portrayal of mafia killings becomes at times something of a courtroom drama, although it needs to be said that the chaotic outbursts there have a distinctively Italian flavour.


The Traitor has a large cast of characters and early on one is almost overwhelmed by the number of named mafia members shown despite which these scenes, complete with numbers on screen counting up how many killings are occurring, do have a real impact even if of a somewhat generalised nature. But before long we achieve a clearer grasp of who is who and can follow more readily the events which Buscetta's actions triggered. Throughout Pierfrancesco Favino as Buscetta is an admirable central presence with Fausto Russo Alesi equally well cast as Falcone and there's totally reliable support from the supporting cast. However, at times one might question Bellocchio's judgment over details: we get a number of short flashbacks that can seem extraneous and there are sudden touches of stylisation (one occurs when a song is heard over a scene in which Buscetta's wife played by Maria Fernanda Cândido is brutally treated) which can seem out of place even if a choral passage from Verdi is arguably acceptable when events take an almost operatic turn. At 152 minutes the film is, indeed, rather lengthy and life doesn't always help in building up climaxes at those times when they would be most welcome. But, even if Buscetta's story fails to develop any deep emotional charge, the facts themselves are sufficient to hold us and not least in the first half Bellocchio's fast pacing and Francesca Calvelli's editing create potent drama. Production values are fine too and there is a panache about the proceedings that a younger filmmaker might envy even if the material never quite feels like the stuff of which masterpieces are made.


Original title:  Il traditore.




Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Fausto Russo Alesi, Luigi Lo Cascio, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Fabrizio Ferracane, Nicola Calì, Giovanni Calcagno, Alessio Pratico, Gabriele Cicirello, Paride Cicirello.


Dir Marco Bellocchio, Pro Beppe Caschetto, Viola Fügen, Simone Gattoni and Fabiano Gullane, Screenplay Marco Bellocchio, Valia Santella, Ludovica Rampoldi, Francesco Piccolo and Francesco La Licata, Ph Vladan Radovic, Pro Des Andrea Castorina, Dani Vilela and Jutta Freyer, Ed Francesca Calvelli, Music Nicola Piovani, Costumes Daria Calvelli.


IBC Movie/Kavac Film/Rai Cinema/Ad Vitam Productions/Gullane/Match Factory Productions/ARTE-Modern Films.
152 mins. Italy/France/Germany/Brazil. 2019. Rel: 24 July 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.