Encounter with an Anti-mafia Family in Sicily
If you haven’t seen I Cento Passi (“The Hundred Steps”) don’t miss it… and probably best to read the following review from the NY Times (see below) before you read my message…. We saw the film last year here in the Assisi area twice – the second time, presented by Giovanni Impastato, Peppino’s brother, who introduced the film and led the discussion about it afterwards, accepting questions. Mine: “Do you think that the death of Peppino has effected change in the Mafia hold on Cinisi?”- answer: “unfortunately, no” …Pino and I talked to Giovanni afterwards and this summer, while visiting Pino’s family in Palermo, we drove over to Cinisi to meet the family.
Giovanni took us around the town and showed us all the sites where the filming had been done. We ended up at his house for a visit with his mother, such a “Madre Coraggio”… a plaque on the wall of the home commemorates Peppino’s death on May 9th, 1978. Their home was the actual interior of the Impastato home in the film. Signora Impastato proudly showed us the Leone D’Oro which the film had won at the Venice Film Festival. She is very elderly – and has difficulty walking – but has an indomitable spirit. She intends to stick around “until Baldalamenti is condemnded for the murder of my son” – Baldalamenti is in prison in the U.S. for his Mafia activities – and was not accused of the crime til 20 years after Peppino’s death. This in itself tells us how far-reaching are the tentacles of the Piovra (“octopus” – the Italian name for the Mafia)….
Every year on May 9th, there is memorial ceremony in Cinisi (outside of Palermo) in honor of Peppino Impastato – which is also, indirectly, a sign of solidarity against the Mafia. Pino and I will be there in 2002. The more people, the stronger the statement… please consider a stop there if you are in Sicily at that time… (and don’t miss a trip to bellissima Sicily if you have never been)
Perhaps anit-Mafia inroads are being made: recently the Prefettura di Palermo dissolved the City Council of Cinisi, judging the members to be acting in the best interests of – not their constituents – but the local Mafia. The Commisariato (representative of the central government) has now replaced the mayor and city council for an indefinite period.
How an Anti-Mafia Film Struck an Italian Chord
By Alessandra Stanley
February 7, 2001
Giuseppe Impastato had a doubly unfortunate death. He was killed on May 9, 1978, the day that the body of Aldo Moro, the kidnapped former prime minister, was found in Rome in a terrorist assassination that shook Italy and the world. The Moro case eclipsed the passing of Impastato, a 30-year-old anti-Mafia crusader in Cinisi, Sicily. A new film about the life and death of Impastato, “I Cento Passi” (“The Hundred Steps”), flips the perspective, burrowing deep into the day-to-day grip of local Mafia bosses on Impastato’s family and small town, and relegating Aldo Moro to a footnote.
The film makes the case that Impastato, who started a radio station in Cinisi to speak out against the Cosa Nostra, was a pivotal figure in an equally dark chapter of modern Italian history, a young idealist whose premature death shook even his political enemies and provoked the first national anti-Mafia demonstration in Italy. The unexpected Italian success of “The Hundred Steps,” a $2 million production starring little-known Sicilian theater actors and directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, a relative newcomer in Italian cinema, in a way mirrors the underdog status of the film’s hero.
Initially the film was overshadowed by a huge publicity campaign for another period piece set in a small Sicilian town, “Malena,” a wartime coming-of-age movie that was directed by the Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”) and starred the sultry Monica Bellucci. Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax, was a co-producer. But despite infusions of Hollywood money and marketing techniques, “Malena” did not meet box office expectations or impress critics. But “I Cento Passi” did surprisingly well and eventually beat out “Malena” as Italy’s selection for the best foreign film category at the Oscars. Whether Italy’s choice will be selected as one of five official nominations on Tuesday remains to be seen.
The film’s success here suggests that there is a hidden appetite for serious, troubling looks at recent history. One reason may be that with Communism discredited and with Italy’s center-left on the defensive and in disarray, for some people the film recalls a time when the left did seem to offer an alternative to the corrupt powers that be. Impastato, who is known as Peppino, was frustrated with the lockstep rigidity and internal power struggles of the Communist Party and eventually allied himself with leftist splinter groups.
Another reason for the film’s popularity may be that even now in Italy, remote chapters in the history of Sicily’s battle against organized crime are not quite closed. Impastato defied his Mafia-linked father, joined the local Communist Party and started a rebel radio station, Radio Aut, to denounce the Mafia. But his death – he was blown up by dymamite on a train track – was ruled accidental by the police, who said he had been attempting a terrorist strike. His family, friends and political supporters insisted he had been murdered, but it was only in 1984 that investigators agreed that it was a Mafia killing. The trial of one mob boss charged with ordering his murder, Gaetano Badalamenti, began last year and continues in Palermo. Badalamenti, who is in prison in the United States after being convicted of heroin smuggling, testifies in the Palermo courthouse by a satellite hookup.
The title of “The Hundred Steps” refers to the number of steps between the Impastatos’ house and that of Badalamenti, and it underscores the invasive proximity of the Mafia. There have been scores of Italian movies dealing with the Cosa Nostra, from “Salvatore Giuliano,”a 1961 film made by Francesco Rosi, to a 1997 musical, “Tano Da Morire,” one of the first Italian films that dared to mock the Mafia. This film – sober, realistic and reverent toward Impastato – seems to match a new mood among Italians, who fear that the anti-Mafia movement is losing momentum and that there is complacency about an entrenched organized crime system that prosecutors say is not dead, just better camouflaged.
The film has been shown in schools and in civic associations throughout the country. Certainly in Palermo there is a sense of relief that filmmakers have turned their attention back to a danger that still exists. Umberto Santino, president of the Giuseppe Impastato Center, a nonprofit Sicilian anti-Mafia association, warned that if society let down its guard, the Mafia would rebound overnight. “We have been keeping up the pressure for 22 years, but the film is reaching a broad audience, one we could never have reached,” Mr. Santino said. “It tells a story that wasn’t known,” at least not this intimately.
Many seem to have been drawn by the complex human relationships laced into an otherwise orthodox message. “When I first saw a screening, I thought it was a good film that would do poorly at the box office,” said Felice Laudadio, president of Cinecittà Holding, whose subsidiary, Instituto Luce, distributed the film in Italy. “But people really responded to the story. It’s not just about the Mafia, but a film that explores the conflict between a father and son quite beautifully within the context of the Mafia.” Fabrizio Mosca, 36, a producer of documentaries, decided to make his first feature film after hearing a friend talk about her encounter with Impastato’s mother. “The story moved me, so I figured it would move other people, too,” he explained. He discovered that there was already a screenplay, by Monica Zapelli and Claudio Fava, a journalist and member of the European Parliament. His father, Giuseppe Fava, was a journalist killed in 1984 because of his investigations of the Mafia. Mr. Mosca then began looking for financing, and a director. Mr. Giordana, however, said that he was initially reluctant to direct the film. “I didn’t know Sicily, and I was afraid I would fall into all the usual stereotypes, that I couldn’t do the story justice.” He relented, insisting that it be shot in Cinisi and that Sicilian actors play the key roles.
Two weeks before shooting, however, the director and producer had not yet found the right actor to play Impastato, whose vivid, restless intelligence was as much a part of his character as his anti-Mafia crusade. At dinner one night in Palermo, the veteran actor who plays Impastato’s father, Luigi Maria Burruano, waved off their concerns and assured them that he had the perfect candidate: his nephew. “You can imagine what went through our minds,” Mr. Mosca recalled. “Right, sure: the nephew.” But it turned out that Luigi Lo Cascio, the young theater actor with no movie experience who was tracked down watching television at his home that night, had exactly the right stuff. “He was small and scrawny, like the real Peppino, but he also had the same special look in his eyes,” Mr. Mosca explained. “We knew at once he would be perfect in the part.”