It’s more chilling than The Godfather, grislier than Goodfellas, and all true. The blood-drenched rise and fall of Salvatore “Totò” Riina gets the epic documentary it deserves with Corleone, in which some of the most notorious Mafiosi in Sicily’s brutal history go on-camera to describe the slaughter they committed under the command of the “Godfather of Godfathers”. During the gang wars and escalating tensions of the ’80s and ’90s, nobody in Palermo was safe.
“The whole story of this poor peasant reaching the highest position in the Mafia in such a bloodthirsty way—this is impressive. Impressive,” says DOXA Documentary Film Festival programmer Thierry Garrel in an excited call to the Georgia Straight.
“Italians, of course, remember because the whole state was shaken and was under threat, month after month, for years. Before, the Mafia was not attacking the powerful. They were extortionists, taking advantage of any money circulating, or drugs, things like that, but the fact that they started having policemen, then judges, then politicians killed…”
Killed publicly, and in spectacular fashion, which the archive-raiding doc presents in gruesome detail. It might be director Mosco Levi Boucault’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker. His career-length excavation of crime and politics Italian-style receives its first-ever retrospective as part of Garrel’s Italia Italia series, running at this year’s festival.
In Boucault’s grand, novelistic approach, both sides of the law emerge as natural storytellers—including the killers. In one incredible moment, the man who blew crusading prosecutor Giovanni Falcone and his wife to smithereens in ’92 recalls his hesitation at detonating the bomb. As with 2011’s They Were the Red Brigades, also coming to DOXA, Boucault is drawn, in Garrel’s words, to “the threshold, the limits of what humanity should be”. Adds the programmer: “There’s a dimension of tragedy inside the darkest human being.”
Perhaps. One of Riina’s commandos describes the boss as “pure criminal”, a “man of honour” who rewrote all the rules of the Cosa Nostra in the blood of his enemies, and then his friends. He was unique in his absolute psychopathy. When he’s finally captured in 1993 after 24 years on the run, Riina’s performance in front of a jury is a masterpiece of operatic dissembling, as the twinkle-eyed monster insists that he’s merely a humble farmer from the town of Corleone.
The mask slips when he’s confronted by a rival boss whose children were killed on Riina’s orders. The Godfather of Godfathers laughs in his face.
Totò Riina died in 2017, still denying his guilt, after another 24 years in solitary confinement. But organized crime didn’t die with him. As we see in another of Boucault’s films, Berlusconi: The Mondadori Affair (2006), the hot nexus of political, corporate, and underworld corruption thrives in Italy—and elsewhere. Garrel, a Paris native now living in Vancouver, remarks: “Berlusconi, he was the first real populist leader, coming from the corporate world, and cynical. Remember, at that time we were looking at Italy across the Alps and saying, ‘Well, this is quite significant. What is happening there will happen here.’ ”
With Trump to the south and the graft being exposed within our own institutions, might we look across the ocean and say something similar?
Corleone screens at SFU Woodward’s on May 5, preceded by a master class with Mosco Levi Boucault at the same venue. Corleone screens again at the Vancity Theatre on May 10.More