Dir: Stefano Incerti. It. 2007. 96mins.
A worthy addition to the modern canon of Italian mafia films, Man Of Glass tells the true story of Leonardo Vitale, the first Sicilian mafioso to turn state's evidence and reveal the inner workings of the powerful Palermo branch of Cosa Nostra.
Like The Hundred Steps, it's a film about one man's courage in denouncing an entire corrupt system that is kept alive by a mixture of appeals to family honour, veiled threats, violent reprisals and omertà, the rule of silence. Well-crafted in every department, the film is further buoyed by a strong cast, with an intense performance by young Sicilian actor David Coco in the lead role.
Opening in Italy on a Saturday to accommodate its Friday premiere at Taormina, Man Of Glass will test the theory that smaller, more 'difficult' films can survive in the exhibitions dogdays of late June, when most Italians begin to desert cinemas in favour of al fresco restaurants and the beach. The film has the passion and the technical polish to work abroad, though it would probably benefit from a little more festival exposure before going it alone.
The novelty in the Man Of Glass is the way it functions both as a stirring anti-Mafia tract and a character study of a man on the edge of madness. Vitale was prey to psychosis, fits of rage and mystic delusions - not traits we normally find in the whistleblowing hero.
But the script (based on a biography of Vitale by co-screenwriter Salvatore Parlagreco) keeps its eye on the object by showing that Cosa Nostra controls, literally, its members hearts and minds: here La Piovra (the octopus - a local term for the tentacular Sicilian Mafia) is seen metaphorically working both from the outside and from within, poisoning Vitale's brain so as to discredit his evidence. And though there's rather too much descent-into-madness bathos in the film's final section, the audience is never seriously led to question the truth of his detailed accusations, or the genuineness of his need for redemption.
Set between 1972 and 1974, the action begins just before Leonardo Vitale (David Coco) is arrested by police in connection with the kidnapping of a Sicilian businessman. Leonardo, or Leuzzo, is intitally presented as a laid-back, impulsive lad who likes jazzy shirts and flared trousers: we see him canoodling with his girlfriend Anna (Elaine Bonsangue) in his sporty red car and being told off by his smooth and sinister uncle (Sicilian veteran Tony Sperandeo) for thinking of deterring a lemon thief with a rifle.
It's not until later that we reinterpret this scene, when we discover that wise old Uncle Titta is a leading mafioso who has inducted his nephew into the cupola by setting him some graded killing homework: first a dog, when he was eight; then a horse, when he was fifteen; and finally, when he was seventeen, a man.
There's no hint of madness until after Vitale's arrest for a crime of which he is (mostly) innocent, but from here on in, depression, paranoia and guilt hounds him until he feels compelled to absolve himself by making a full confession to the police. According to the inexorable logic of the Mafia (a logic fuelled by the scepticism of many of those in power or in the media), only a madman could break the code of honour and name names. And it doesn't help that Leonardo has spent time in a psychiatric ward.
Deep, dark colours and tight framings strike an oppressive note, which is further stressed by the closed spaces of Leonardo's world: the cramped house he lives in with his loving but overbearingly intense mother (Anna Bonaiuto) and sister (Ilenia Maccarrone), lined with cheap Catholic images of saints and virgins; the tiny cars and delvery vans everyone drives; the wedge-shaped isolation cell he's kept during his first arrest.
Andrea Guerra's soundtrack, which alternates smoky jazz quartet waltzes, melancholy Sicilian dialect songs and more conventional orchestral tension music, is cranked up high in the mix, at one point even masking the dialogue. Though distracting at times, this musical invasiveness acts as a good simulacrum of the noise going on in the hero's head, the mental and social interference that disrupts and eventually derails his mission.
Antonio Di Simone Golluscio