Volume 19 • Issue 10 | July 21- - 27, 2006

FILM

Excellent Cadavers
Directed by Marco Truco
At Film Forum through July 25
209 W. Houston Street
(212-727-8110, www.filmforum.org)

© Franco Zecchin. First Run/Icarus Films.

Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia (center) at the scene of a Mafia homicide as seen in “Excellent Cadavers.”

Bada-Sting: New doc takes harsh look at Sicilian Mafia

By Noah Fowle

While the mafia is often mythologized by American film and television, Marco Truco’s new documentary, “Excellent Cadavers,” takes a remarkably different tack, capturing the mafia through the eyes of their victims and prosecutors. Dispensing with the slick suits, big egos and sit-downs so closely associated with shows like the Sopranos, Truco’s film explores the depths of the violence and corruption that has gripped the Italian people in fear, and finds that while good men may still offer protection to the weak, the battle is far from over.

Truco recounts the work of two Italian magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, who led the Maxi Trials in Palermo in the 1980s and early 1990s. The men successfully prosecuted hundreds of mafia associates and set up Italy’s first witness protection program. But just as Truco’s film does not allow for the typical gloss and sheen of a crime tale, he also dispenses with a satisfying conclusion, as both Falcone and Borsellino were eventually murdered by the men they went after.

“Excellent Cadavers” combines the gripping images of the celebrated Sicilian crime photographer Letizia Battaglia and the narration and insight of American journalist Alexander Stille, whose book of the same title was the source material for the film. Together the three combine their mediums to make a thoughtful piece that examines the crime and its effects on both the individual and the public. The film comes alive with Battaglia’s striking images of the grisly deaths that marred life in Palermo, where in 1982 there was a mafia killing every three days. In one interview, she reveals that she was unable to remain an objective observer behind her lens, and fled her homeland because there seemed to be no solution to the problems that plagued the streets.

Stille’s research also uncovers far more disturbing crimes than murder and extortion. Digging into the thick world of Italian politics, he discovers that the mafia has sympathetic friends in high places and the solution is often to turn a blind eye. He indicts both past administrations and the current one, under Silvio Berlusconi, for being in bed with the mafia and benefiting from their tenuous relationships.

The funerals of both men, who were assassinated in separate incidents in 1992, provide the most explosive scenes of the film. Through archival news footage, Truco gives a voice to the enraged citizens of Palermo, whose demonstrations at their funerals quickly turned to riots against the government. However, some of the license Truco takes in recreating the assignations ring hollow and stilt the flow of the film.

“Excellent Cadavers” strikes at the larger issue of the mafia violence, yet one cannot help but wish for a tad more personnel touch to the story. Only through Battaglia is a glimpse offered into the depressing wounds left by the plague of violence. It is then that Truco manages to bring to life an incredible story about the fight against injustice and the long road to a peaceful end.


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