The Mafia Kills Only in Summer (La mafia uccide solo d’estate) is the debut feature from popular Italian TV satirist Pierfrancesco Diliberto, commonly known as Pif. The film bears his distinctive mark, as he is also its co-writer, star and narrator. While not expressly autobiographical, its Mafia-centred plot certainly holds close personal relevance to the Sicilian-born director (who bears an uncanny resemblance to Zach Braff), the film set in his native Palermo in the period of his own youth, roughly spanning from the 1970s to the early 1990s. It was a period of high-profile Mafia killings of judges, politicians and lawmen, and the film has been met with praise in Italy for its honouring of these victims as well as its brave treatment of the government and society of the time’s cowardly denial and blind tolerance towards the plague of the Mafia. However, despite admirable intentions, this political satire ultimately drops the ball in its tonal juggling act of comedy and drama, ending up being neither particularly funny nor dramatic.
The action centres around young Arturo and the impact the Mafia has on his life growing up in Cosa Nostra-dominated Palermo. One of the film’s opening scenes involves a parallel montage of an animated reconstruction of the sperm that would become Arturo fertilising his mother’s egg as the famed Viale Lazio Mafia massacre of 1969 takes place downstairs, just to make the connection clear. His first word is not ‘mamma’ but ‘mafia,’ and the course of his life is continually punctuated by Forrest Gump-like clashes with the actions of the Mafia and their victims. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer therefore belongs to a group of what Matt Zoller Seitz has termed “little-man-on-the-fringes-of-history” movies, of which Woody Allen’s 1983 Zelig is the urtext.1 Footage sourced by Diliberto from the Rai television archives of shootings, funerals, trials and protests is mixed in with the plot to add historical context.2 However, this technique, without being used with a playful self-awareness as in Zelig, and used together with the voice-over narration, ends up being overly expository and gives the film the effect of bashing you over the head with its message. It also, like Forrest Gump, suffers from a case of seriously gauche sentimentality, of such severity that it is rendered unsalvageable by even the most astute of political observations.
Arturo’s unrequited love for classmate Flora provides acts as the driving force of the narrative as well as the source for much of its comedy, surrounding his mostly ill-fated attempts to win her affections. These attempts range from the saccharine (anonymously leaving pastries on her desk, scrawling chalk proclamations of love on the pavement outside her apartment) to a juvenile American Pie-level of crassness (debating how many condoms to pack for their first date). All this is frustratingly unoriginal and unimaginatively manufactured, and Arturo’s character seems essentially a broadly-drawn vehicle for the greater political satire at play, with his personal plights carrying little emotional weight. Flora, too, is disappointingly under-developed. This would be forgivable if the film were funnier, or its broadness more intentional, but neither is the case.
All in all, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer is a disappointing affair. Diliberto has claimed that it is a film made for the Palermitani of his generation, with the film providing a previously lacking ‘public space’ to reflect on their experiences growing up.3 Certainly it seems to have struck a chord with local audiences, and the film would resonate more with those familiar with the history of the Cosa Nostra, but to your average outside observer devoid of such investment, it bears little appeal.