The city of Palermo has long suffered under the rule of a criminal empire: the Sicilian Mafia, better known as the Cosa Nostra. Anti-mob group Addiopizzo reported in 2008 that the Mafia extorts more than $200 million annually from local businesses — in a city of fewer than 700,000 residents.
In the Nineties, when things were really dire, Palermo was besieged by bombings and assassinations. An article on Italian travel in The Guardian cautioned that in those days, the city “had all the tourist appeal of a city break in Kabul.” Part of the problem, as Pierfrancesco Diliberto’s The Mafia Only Kills in Summer smartly observes, is anyone with the power to confront the Cosa Nostra tends to turn up dead, no matter how well-known or well-protected.
Speaking out about the corruption is pointless too: Everyone is already quite aware of the problem. So Diliberto has devised a rather more unusual method of addressing Palermo’s Mafia infestation. If he can’t fight them, he’ll skewer them — scathingly, uproariously, with great comic verve.
Diliberto’s film, a buoyant farce, chronicles two decades in the history of Palermo and the Cosa Nostra, lampooning the atrocities and hypocrisies of the Mob in a manner not unlike Abderrahmane Sissako’s recent Timbuktu did to radical Islam.
Cleverly splicing himself into archival news footage and dramatizing a romance around the historical action, Diliberto has managed to make a political comedy that seems at once tremendously funny and intensely serious — a provocative, and perhaps even important, combination.