Monday 2 October 2017

Italian Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reviews a comedy on Sicilian politics, IT'S THE LAW (Ficarra & Picone, 2017)

L'ora legale/It’s the Law from the comedian team Ficarra & Picone looks like a departure from the other material in the Italian film event. Its depiction of Pietrammare, a fictitious coastal town in Sicily, actually filmed in Palermo’s Termini Imerese where Cinema Paradiso was shot, makes a striking contrast to the jolly Napoli movies showing.

We kick off with local priest Leo Gullotta muttering when he stands in doggy do on the picturesque stone steps. The streets are full of uncontrolled traffic and the town’s roughneck is collecting a fee for watching the vehicles parking illegally in the square where the church dwarfs the town hall. Corrupt mayor, the imposing Tony Sperandeo, is porkbarrelling his way to re-election. The mourners in a funeral procession each carry one of his white plastic bags of gift groceries.

His only opposition is school teacher Vincenzo Amato (also in Boardwalk Empire and Sicilian Ghost Story) running on a clean government platform. One of the comic leads runs a speaker van supporting him while the other one drives one supporting Sperandeo. They are both members of the same extended family which generates would-be comic family meals. There is however an upset and the Polizia Financiale take away Sperandeo handing the election to Amato. Nice scene of him saying good bye to his pupils.

Eleonora De Luca, L'Ora Legale
This is initially a cause of rejoicing but Amato’s office fills with a line of petitioners who find that the network of perks that sustains them has unraveled. The Padre’s Bed and Breakfast has to pay tax, the police have to write up fines on their neighbors for the first time in thirty years and the civil servants have to actually spend time at their desks ruining the cafes where they used to pass their time. Even the forest rangers have to go out into the woods.

There are some dire routines with the leads incriminating one another by putting recyclables in the wrong bins at night and making animal sounds to account for the noise they make. The outraged citizens call a town meeting in the church, where the woman who made a point of keeping one of Amato’s election leaflets to reproach him for un-kept promises, produces it to list the reforms he has actually enacted. Only one man speaks out, saying how much more agreeable the ordered streets have become. They turn on him.

Amato's sister finds the shops will no longer serve her and her job at the factory whose poisonous effluent has pushed up the town’s death rate is closed for not meeting environmental regulations. Her co-workers won’t speak to her. The citizens determine to act against the reformer.

The job of intimidating Amato falls to the dire duo who we find in a Dexter style plastic covered room with a chain saw to cut the head off a horse to leave in his bed. They can’t bring themselves to do that or behead a goat or a bunny and the wives complain about the zoo accumulating in their front gardens. So, the boys use the head of a sword fish  (an expensive buy) and Amato turns it into pasta sauce. They build an un-authorised extension with the materials from the fake Greek Gazebo they couldn’t get a permit for and a bit of probing finally exposes Amato’s weakness.

The mob forms in the square demanding his resignation with a choreographed Mexican wave. However, the boys riding double on the horse have retrieved his alienated daughter who makes a stirring speech on the steps of the Municipio with Amato coming out and adding his own convincing appeal.

The mob turn on them savagely. Sperandeo is restored to the delight of all. This is not the outcome we expected for this piece of knock-about and the point is made in a coda with the one supporter bound in a chair facing what is clearly meant to be a Mafia enforcer though they call him a Roman politician.

In real life, the recession appears to be reviving Sicilian organised crime to the despair of reformers and there is more serious comment in this film than is obvious. The point is curiously underlined when we remember Sperandeo’s turn as the Mafia Don making the highlight actual “Hundred Steps” speech in Marco Tullio Giordano’s exceptional I Cento Passi of 2000. Pif was an assistant on that one.

As for Ficarra & Picone, they clearly consider themselves as an extension of the tradition of Sicilian low comics Franco and Ciccio and of Aldo, Giacomo and Giovanni who they supported in the 2000 Chiedimi se sono felice. The pair appears to stand out from that line however, avoiding nudity and bad language and in this film it’s possible to see the childish quality which throws into relief the bitter after taste material which is the dominant feature. They seem to go down a treat in their home market, as shown by the returns on this film. I just wish they were funnier.

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