In this time of US whistleblowers comes a fascinating, true mafia story. The Traitor is about one of the greatest whistleblowers of all time, in 20th century Sicily.
To those brought to justice for their crimes, the whistleblower is a rat. To the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, informant Tommaso Buscetta was a traitor. Throughout his collaboration and his life in witness protection, the mob attempted to avenge his treason. The constant anticipation that he will be killed brings incredible tension to Marco Bellocchio’s superb film.
The Traitor is primarily a portrait of Buscetta, the mafia boss who helped take down over 350 organized crime figures who were tried in what became known as the Maxi Trial in Palermo in the 1980s. It is also about Justice Giovanni Falcone and the relationship of trust between him and the whistleblower.
Falcone was the brilliant magistrate and prosecutor who established rock-solid evidence of money laundering and financial crimes. Based upon Buscetta’s testimony about the workings of Cosa Nostra, Falcone tied their MO of assassination to the entire network. When the Cosa Nostra murdered Falcone, they allegedly had a party and cheered. As a threat to their organization, Falcone had nearly succeeded in wiping them out, using Buscetta’s testimony.
The film chronicles Buscetta’s relationship with Falcone up to and including incredible scenes from the Maxi Trial. Theirs is a tale of suspense, of courage and collaboration between the just and the infamous. Tension is sustained throughout. We know the mafia will seek revenge. It’s a matter of when and who. When it comes we are shocked and appalled.
Bellocchio’s fictional depictions of various mafiosi create a feeling of documentary-like authenticity. The Traitor spans decades of Buscetta’s life with La Cosa Nostra. The cinematography, shots, and attention to costumes, hair, and sets create the past with an intimate feel, as if you’re watching a home movie.
An important theme of The Traitor is the code of silence. If you talk, you die. Thus, the film is a superb exposé of the sub rosa mores that keep criminals in power. Only in the most dire of circumstances do criminals admit the truth and accept culpability. Importantly, the director’s in-depth portrayal of Buscetta reveals why he cooperates. The reasons include Justice Falcone’s honorable behavior, and also the informant’s eyes being opened in witness protection. Indeed, the network’s greed and inhumanity disturb him. And Buscetta moves toward a kind of redemption, especially after he confronts his enemies at the Maxi Trial.
Bellocchio’s portrait of Buscetta highlights the whistleblower’s character as a ladies’ man and father. He had many children with different wives. Some of his children he takes to live safely in Brazil. But the mafia kills his son. We see his remorse about not having compelled his son to go with him. Though Buscetta is a devil, he is complex. He is one with a heart.
Finally, another strength of the film is Bellocchio’s credible depictions. The scenes of the Maxi Trial strike with the spectacle and drama of the mafia. With specificity the filmmaker reveals Buscetta’s humanity and fallibility. Also, he shows the contrast in lifestyle, aura, and personality between Falcone and Buscetta. We realize that if Buscetta had had Falcone’s advantages and opportunities growing up, he might not have joined the mob.
A film clip at the end of the real Buscetta singing at his birthday party astounds. For we note that he is just a regular family man. However, Bellocchio ends the film with a scene revealing his equally amazing, determined murderousness. La Cosa Nostra’s glamor and Buscetta’s legend are infamous. So Justice Falcone is the real hero. Around the world, statues to memorialize his greatness have been built.
The Traitor is a must-see, especially for the commanding performances by Pierfrancesco Favino as Buscetta, Fabrizio Ferraane as Riina, and Fausto Russo Alesi as Falcone. Maria Fernanda Candido’s nuanced performance as his mob wife also intrigues.
The Traitor screens Sunday Oct. 6 and Monday Oct. 7 at Alice Tully Hall. For tickets and times go to the New York Film Festival website.