Dir: Marco Tullio Giordana. Italy. 2000. 105 mins.

Prod co: Titti Film. Co-prod: Rai Cinema. Backer: Tele +. Int'l sales:

Istituto Luce (39) 06 729921. Prod: Fabrizio Mosca. Scr: Claudio Fava, Monica Zapelli, Marco Tullio Giordana. DoP: Roberto Forza. Prod des: Franco Ceraolo. Ed: Roberto Missiroli. Main cast: Luigi Lo Cascio (Peppino Impastato), Luigi Maria Burruano (Luigi Impastato), Lucia Sardo (Felicia Impastato), Paolo Briguglia (Giovanni Impastato), Tony Sperandeo (Gaetano Badalamenti), Andrea Tidona (Stefano Venuti).

Italian directors have always been keen on zero-irony, politically-committed cinema, and Giordana himself made a significant contribution to the genre with Pasolini, Un Delitto Italiano, his 1995 film about the murder of director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The Hundred Steps, which is the first of four Italian films to appear in competition in Venice, wears its heart even more visibly on its sleeve.

The film is an impassioned reconstruction of the life of Peppino Impastato, the son of a small-time mafioso from Cinisi, west of Palermo, who rebelled against the conspiracy of silence, denouncing the bosses in small agit-prop newspapers (one famous editorial he penned was titled "The Mafia is a mountain of shit") and over the airwaves. He was eventually silenced - beaten up and then blown to pieces - on the very day that the Red Brigades' kidnapping of Aldo Moro ended with the discovery of the politician's body. The news of Impastato's death - originally, and rather bizarrely, treated by police as a suicide - merited no more than a short paragraph.

As a memorial, a study of Mafia mores and the record of an injustice, The Hundred Steps must be admired. As a film, it shares the flaws of much 'serious' Italian cinema - notably, a tendency to overact, which undermines the power of some pivotal moments, and poor writing in some of the bridging scenes. But the emotional structure - which hinges on the opposite pulls of political principle and family loyalty - is well carried through, and main man Luigi Lo Cascio - who looks like a Sicilian Bryan Ferry - puts in a strong, convincing performance as Impastato. The three writers Claudio Fava, Monica Zapelli and Marco Tullio Giordana were awarded the prize for Best Script at Venice last week.

Reaction at the press screening - prolonged applause from the Italians, polite appreciation from the rest - is a mirror of the film's commercial prospects. It should do well at home - with the usual proviso, that only comedies ever clean up at the domestic box office these days. Overseas, its lack of detachment and stylistic verve, and the Italian cultural and historical knowledge it presupposes, is likely to limit its visibility to festivals and dedicated Italophile film clubs.