Saturday, 29 March 2008

Baciamo le mani / Kiss My Hand / Mafia War / Family Killer

Though obviously inspired by and in the style of The Godfather, this is one of those films which showcases the strengths of the filone cinema by putting a distinctive twist on its material in expressing a preference for more downbeat, fatalistic and realistic resolutions whereby the black hats tend to triumph over the light and dark grey hats.

The bad guys are represented by Gaspare Ardizzone, effectively played by John Saxon in scenery-chewing mode. He’s decided that the old ways are outmoded and that honour and respect matter little compared to money and power. His first act, the one which propels the rest of the narrative, is to summarily gun down one of the Ferrante family.

They’re the less bad guys. Godfather figure Angelino Ferrante, played by Arthur Kennedy with appropriate dignity and restraint, is the traditionalist who finds himself fighting an ever more difficult battle to keep his family together. Whereas some quiet words were once sufficient to settle disputes, now it is easier to resort to murder as a first rather than last resort; the rules of the business have changed.

The point where the difference between Baciamo le mani and The Godfather is perhaps most evident, however, is in the Michael Corleone type quiet one among Angelino’s sons, Massimo. Rather than getting drawn into the family business, Massimo wants nothing to do with it. Though he goes to New York to be with his older brother Luciano, this is very much against the wishes of his father, for whom “America is like a sickness”.

While the experience encourages Massimo to change his mind and plan a return to Palermo to set things right, he’s then randomly stabbed to death by a junkie before he can put this into effect; a doubly ironic demise given that this same junkie is likely a consumer of the product the Ferrante family have reluctantly become involved in trafficking, and which would surely have formed an important plank in his own acceptance of the new realities.

Featuring good use of locations and some striking compositions, the main area where the film falls short of its rival is that of duration. Often we don’t get a sufficient sense of how much time passes between scenes, as when the widowing of Mariuccia Ferrante is quickly followed by her becoming pregnant by her deceased husband’s right hand. Towards the end things perhaps also become that bit too “action movie” and perfunctory with a corresponding loss of epic and tragic dimensions and details. Then again, this could conceivably be turned into a strength of sorts, as yet another indication that the old ways and world have now passed. (One here thinks especially of Leone’s Once Upon a Time… films, or of Visconti’s The Leopard.)

The origins of Baciamo le mani are worth noting, with director Vittorio Schiraldi – only in his early 30s at the time – adapting his own novel of the same name. Though he has a few other noteworthy writing credits to his name, including two unusually critical and thought-provoking gialli, L’Assoluto Naturale and Il Gatto dagli occhi di giada, Schiraldi only ever directed one other film, the war documentary Lettere dal fronte. We don’t seem, that is, to be dealing with your typical genre filmmaker and, for better more than worse, it shows.

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