Film Review: The Mafia Only Kills in Summer (★★★)

MafiaSummer_posterComedy is probably not the first thing you think of when you hear the word “mafia”, but that’s exactly what we get in The Mafia Only Kills in Summer. Inspired by real events involving the Sicilian Mafia, this debut feature from TV personality-turned-director Pif (a pseudonym for Pierfrancesco Diliberto) takes a uniquely light approach to the familiar gangster tropes. The result is a winsome film that’s filled with romance, dark humor and wistful nostalgia.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer is the story of Arturo (played by Pif in his older years), a young man growing up in Palermo, Italy during the 1970s to 1990s. It was a time of love and innocence lost, as our protagonist embarks on a decades-long mission to win the heart of his beautiful classmate Flora, amid the backdrop of a city tormented by mafia-related crime. As we follow his story, we get a fascinating interpretation of this tumultuous period in Italian history, featuring various colorful characters and intriguing cultural insight.

Much of the film’s plot is framed around Arturo’s central tale of unrequited love. We first glimpse his predicament from his perspective as a little boy – in a charming performance by Alex Bisconti – when a rivalry ensues with another interested classmate. These early scenes bring all the expected sweetness of childhood love, as Arturo tries to impress her with baked treats and his knowledge of the local mafia. This latter aspect is particularly amusing, showing the ways in which the Cosa Nostra (the name adopted by the Sicilian Mafia) exists in the community as both regular citizens and infamous fear-mongers.

Indeed, there are many humorous moments involving an ongoing war between rival mafia groups and law officials. When we first hear news announcements of murders for example, many locals (mostly men) cover up the truth by blaming these instances on wronged women. Of course, the impressionable Arturo believes it wholeheartedly, causing his early interactions with Flora to be filled with adorable fright. All throughout the film, Pif shows a deft handling of the inherent dark humor, using similar ways to show how the people cope with the persistent terror with humor and willful denial. Furthermore, he does so without shying away from the violence, finding the right balance in tone to prevent the harsh realities from being excessively unpleasant.
As Arturo grows up, the film reveals more of its nostalgic intentions, through his remembrances of Flora and the various important individuals he met throughout his life as an aspiring journalist. A Palermo native himself, Pif’s love for the city and its people is evident throughout, particularly in its moving acknowledgments of the judges and other brave persons who were slain while trying to uphold law and order. The Mafia Only Kills in Summer may come across like a trifle due to the plot’s quirky elements (especially in its weaker 2nd half), but audiences should find it thoroughly enjoyable with an endearing sense of pathos.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer releases in select theaters March 6, 2015.