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Pierfrancesco Diliberto • Director

“You can laugh about the mafia”


- Pif, known for his satirical skits on television, talks about The Mafia Only Kills In Summer, his feature debut selected in competition at the Turin Festival

Pierfrancesco Diliberto • Director

Pierfrancesco Diliberto, aka Pif, is best known for his satirical skits on television (Le Iene, Italia 1, and Il Testimone, Mtv). After assisting directors Franco Zeffirelli (Tea With Mussolini, 1998) and Marco Tullio Giordana (One Hundred Steps, 2000), the Sicilian showman has signed off on his first feature length film, one of Italy’s most anticipated this season. The Mafia Only Kills In Summer [+see also:
film review
interview: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
film profile
(La mafia uccide solo d'estate) is a tale that spans twenty years during which time blood and violence are intertwined with romance started in a school’s playground, giving the mafia theme an ironic take in the Palermo of the 1970s through the 1990s. The director talked about it in Rome while he presented his film to the press just before the official start of the 31st Turin Film Festival.

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Cineuropa: Is laughing at the mafia feasible?
Pif: You can laugh at everything. The important thing is for satire not to offend tragedy. I come from the world of the satirical television news show Le Iene, where you start off with a joke, and then you talk about important matters and it is a punch in the face, and then you go back to laughing. I talked about the mafia in a number of episodes of Il Testimone. It just so happened that we started off with the ice cream brioche – a Sicilian speciality I adore – and we ended up interviewing the daughter of someone who had been killed by the mafia. Nobody ever protested and that convinced me to continue on this road. I want the film to touch young people too. Maybe they will recognise me for my television work when they would otherwise be reluctant to watch a classic film.

How was the idea for the film born?
When I moved from Palermo to Milan, people used to ask me questions, and I realised that for Italians, the mafia was tied to the countryside imagination of Totò Riina. But the mafia is also about a middleclass Palermo, people like Stefano Bontade, who look educated and gentile, so I thought I could tell another side of it. Most of the questions I would get were: why don’t people rebel? I often make the example of shoulder pads in the 1980s. Women used to wear them without thinking about it, but they were horrendous. How come shoulder pads were in my life but I did nothing about it? How is it possible that a mafia-ridden Palermo entered into so many people’s lives and no one did anything about it? If you listen to politicians’ declarations, it was all clear. Some were involved, others would not so much deny the existence of the mafia, as much as its dangerousness. I myself was living in a bubble, I thought the danger had nothing to do with me. We all had a rude awakening in 1992 when the two judges Falcone and Borsellino were killed.

The film uses archival images. How did you combine them with your own filming?
We invented Arturo’s life by inspiring ourselves of my own life, of Palermo residents as well as Michele (Astori, who co-wrote the screenplay with Pif and Marco Martani) who based himself on facts that had actually happened. The images spoke for themselves, there was no need to date them. I spent hours and hours at the Rai headquarters, a true museum of our own history. The experience was incredible. The challenge was to mix our own images with those in the archive, which is what Milk does. When Arturo goes into church for the funeral of the general Dalla Chiesa, I moved the camera in order to recreate the effect of television filming. The final scene, the moment in which Palermo opens its eyes to the Borsellino funeral, was filmed with a beta camera from 1992.

What kind of reaction are you expecting from a young Palermo resident watching the film today? 
Surprise. The film tells the story of what actually happened. If it surprised me, who was there, you can only imagine the effect on someone who was not there or who was too young to remember. But that goes for the north too. Some politicians from northern Italy are similar from those in Palermo. Either because of pride or involvement, they do not want to own up to the existence or danger of organised crime. The mafia in Sicily is less powerful today than it was in the 1970s, attention has shifted towards the camorra and the 'ndrangheta, but the state needs to continue to be around and fight, because the most dangerous form of mafia is one which acts in silence. I am optimistic because there are many elements of reality that comfort me. In Palermo, there is an association of 800 business owners called Addiopizzo who refuse to pay the mafia fee. They put a sticker up on their business windows and it works. There are former criminals who say that when they would see stickers they would turn around. Today, people denounce. People are not resigned like our parents used to be.

And did you have any such problems when you were filming? 
When I decided to film in Palermo, the first thing I told myself is that I would never pay a mafia fee. That would have been absurd considering the film’s theme. And that is what happened. We went ahead on our own path and filmed for four weeks, with the support of the Addiopizzo association. The group helps. It is important to not have an identifiable leader that can be punished. The mafia is not intelligent on this. If working conditions were easier, Palermo would be invaded by film crews. The city is beautiful, the people hospitable, the food is good and there is a lot of light. This is an invitation: you can film in Palermo without paying a mafia fee.

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(Translated from Italian)

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