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The Criterion Collection presents
"You guys are exactly the way I left you eight years ago."
DVD ReviewGiven this film's title and its Sicilian provenance, you might expect it to be a forerunner to the Mob pictures of Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese, a link between Neorealism and the post-Code renaissance in Hollywood—but after a couple of frames (or even just a glance at the jokey DVD cover art), it's quickly clear that we're in for something else entirely, more of a cosa nostra comedy of manners. (It's a movie with a sensibility closer to After Hours than GoodFellas.) Alberto Lattuada's black comedy can be tonally uneven and structurally is rather ungainly—it sometimes feels like you're watching mismatched halves of different movies—but it's got a wry sensibility and an affection for Sicily that goes a long way.
The film starts off rather jarringly looking almost like a Milanese industrial film. We meet Nino (Alberto Sordi), a manager in a northern Italian automotive plant, clocking out just before his vacation—he's about to take his lovely young wife and their two little daughters to meet his family, for the first time, in Sicily, but not before agreeing to perform a favor for his boss: the delivery of a gift to Don Vincenzo, who we are led to understand is the local capo for this thing of ours in Nino's home town. Lattuada has an eye for the landscape, and for the procedural—he loves the cars, trains and boats that the family must take on its arduous journey, and when they make it to their destination, much of the film is about intra-Italian cultural differences. Nino's Sicilian family is boisterous, exuberant; his wife, Marta, is more reserved, so it's no surprise that they think she's stuck up, and she thinks they're more than a little coarse. Much of the story is about the pull of the old neighborhood, and of how it is informed by the code of omertą—Nino's pals are exactly the same, and the unspoken governance of the town by Don Vincenzo and his soldiers is made abundantly clear when one of the old gang is foolish enough to inform on another.
Just when he thought he was out, they pull him back in—though he doesn't say as much, it seems clear that Nino headed north to get out of the orbit of Don Vincenzo and his comrades, but now that he is back, the family is intent on putting Nino's loyalty to the test. The second half of the film becomes a more conventional action picture, whereas the first had been a frisky comedy of social mores—some of the plot turns are abrupt and I don't want to give them away, but you can't help noticing that Nino gets treated much like suicide bombers do before they're dispatched to commit their heinous crimes, with the promise of everlasting glory, for their families here on earth, and for themselves in the hereafter.
The movie kind of moves forward in fits and starts, and can be a little unsatisfying—it's neither funny enough to provide lots of belly laughs, nor sufficiently interested in the workings of organized crime to be a wholly successful mob picture. But it's kind of intriguing as a mash-up, with a Neorealist's eye for the Sicilian landscape, a tongue firmly in its cheek while examining familial and social mores, and with enough passing familiarity to take much of the mob's workings for granted. And Sordi helps Lattuada hold the whole thing together—he can be broadly comic, but his Nino never becomes such a buffoon that we lose sight of the fact that first and foremost he's a family man, and wants to protect his little girls. It's not riotous and it's decidedly uneven, but it's clever enough to win over your good will.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: A glimmering transfer, one that looks as good as any Italian film from the period, and better than most. Location shooting can be unforgiving to some of the film stocks of the 1960s, but the black-and-white photography looks saturated and nuanced throughout. Exemplary work.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Any Italian you may speak will be sorely tested here, for much of the dialogue is in a heavy Sicilian dialect. Those of us principally reading along with the subtitles are in good stead, though; the mono track is certainly sufficiently clean.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsA peculiar mixture of genres, with elements of the travelogue, the family comedy and the mob movie, it's not a wholly satisfying film, but its unevenness actually accounts for much of its charm.
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