DIRECTED BY: MARCO BELLOCCHIO/2019
Director Marco Bellocchio has provided an Italian perspective at the Sicilian Cosa Nostra crime syndicate through his latest film The Traitor, or in Italian, Il Traditore. American audiences have always been drawn to the crime stories of the Italian mafia in much the same way that Italian audiences have always loved the American western. Seeing a uniquely Italian story from a masterful filmmaker like Marco Bellocchio provides a wonderful viewing experience of a true story that took place in the 1980’s.
Tommaso “Tommy” Buscetta (Pierfrancesco Favino) was a high-ranking member of the Cosa Nostra. He was called the “boss of the two worlds”. As he helps facilitate a tentative peace agreement between the Cosa Nostra and a rival, he decides to walk away from it all, in good standing, and live in Brazil with his family, except for two sons. When they are eventually gunned down back in Italy, Tommy finds himself, and the rest of the family, in danger from the very friends he had once trusted to keep them safe.
Eventually, Tommy is extradited back to Italy when Brazil’s authorities no longer want to look the other way as it concerns Tommy’s crime connections. Once in Italy, Tommy develops a relationship with magistrate Giovanni Falcone (Fausto Russo Alesi), who is working with Tommy, and a few other former members of the Cosa Nostra, to expose and prosecute the high-level bosses of the mafia. As a result, Tommy Buscetta becomes the first mafia informant in Sicily during the trials in the 1980’s.
The Traitor is a film that takes its time. As a result, it is able to create a richer narrative that truly develops and reveals the difficulty with which Tommy had to wrestle within himself to work with the state against his entire former way of life. He had declared allegiance to the Cosa Nostra, and his willingness to work with the prosecution labeled him as a “rat” in the eyes of his former friends and colleagues. It put his entire family in danger, forcing them into a witness protection program in the United States.
The true standout of the film is Pierfrancesco Favino whose performance of Tommaso Buscetta is fabulous. Not only does he play the part throughout different times, and looks, of Tommy’s life, but he also provides a very layered and nuanced performance where his character can go from calm to demur, to calculating, and cruel. Even as he is testifying against the Cosa Nostra, we get a real sense of his continued loyalty to what he first signed up for in the beginning when he pledged his life to this organization. This wasn’t a case of a man feeling guilt and remorse over the violence he had committed for them, or a man who had decided to change his ways and thus was willing to bring it all down.
This is a man who was still a true believer, but who felt betrayed by those who he once called friends and associates. They had violated the code when they killed his sons. His cooperation with the prosecution was more about removing the impurities of what the Cosa Nostra was becoming, and in a way calling it back to its higher ideals from years ago when there was a moral code to its criminality, a sort of way of conducting itself with honor. It is on this front that Bellocchio directs the narrative, allowing for a more nuanced approach to this historical event which allows the viewer to truly get a sense of both sides, though Tommy Buscetta is still clearly the “hero” of the film’s narrative.
The Traitor, in several ways, can easily be compared with (and contrasted with) the recent Oscar-nominated film, The Irishman. While Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman was a much more smooth and stylized view of American organized crime, but The Traitor feels like it’s coming from a place that is just as authentic, with its presentation of Italian organized crime. Both films are marathons, with The Irishman clocking in at 3 hours and 29 minutes, and The Traitor with a runtime of 2 hours and 25 minutes. Both films come from directors who know their subject matter and who take the time to tell their own specific take on historical events.
The Traitor, Il Traditore, is showing in select theaters in the United States, with rolling release dates in different markets. The film is presented with English subtitles for the spoken languages of the film which include Italian, Sicilian, Portuguese, and English. The film also stars Luigi Lo Cascio, Maria Fernanda Candido, Fabrizio Ferracane, Nicola Cali, and Giovanni Calcagno.