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CANNES 2019 Competition

Marco Bellocchio • Director of The Traitor

"Buscetta is no hero"


- CANNES 2019: Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio unpicks his new movie The Traitor, which was unveiled to much applause in competition at Cannes

Marco Bellocchio  • Director of The Traitor

Flanked by his cast and crew, in particular his excellent lead actor Pierfrancesco Favino, Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio chatted to the international press about the ins and outs of his new movie, the superb The Traitor [+see also:
film review
Q&A: Marco Bellocchio
film profile
, which has just screened in competition at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.

Why did you give the film this specific title, The Traitor, which would seem to adopt the point of view of the Cosa Nostra mafiosi?
Marco Bellocchio:
 The main character is indeed a traitor from Cosa Nostra’s point of view, from the point of view of Mafia tradition, from the point of view of the past, and from the point of view of the family he belongs to. For Buscetta, betrayal is an extremely painful decision, but at the same time, it’s him rejecting a certain type of Mafia that made decisions he doesn’t agree with. But Buscetta is no hero; he’s a brave human being who wants to save his and his family’s skin, and he’s also quite conservative because he yearns for the type of Mafia that watched him grow up, which baptised him, so to speak. He’s therefore nothing like these revolutionary traitors who betray their past to change the world.

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What are your own personal memories of the moment when Buscetta began talking to judge Falcone?
I remember it very well. The newspapers started to talk about this man who arrived from Brazil, shrouded in mystery. His cover was totally blown. All we knew was that he belonged to a certain branch of the Mafia and that he had killed quite a lot of people. And all of a sudden, there he was disembarking from the plane, and that hit the headlines in a big way. But we knew very little about him. We only came to understand the significance and the immense value of Buscetta’s betrayal over time, with judge Falcone, which led to this huge trial that represented the state’s partial victory over the Mafia. The Mafia wasn’t totally defeated, contrary to what was being said at the time, but nevertheless, it was a defeat for them.

Did your initial opinion of Buscetta’s character change at all as you made the film?
Any attraction I felt towards this character was due to him being fascinating. Not because of his ambiguity, but rather because everyone who knew him says he was a man with a very strong character and a very robust identity, but also that he was an ignorant and uncultured man who was nevertheless perfectly aware of his ignorance. Towards the end of the film, when Buscetta is succumbing to age and sickness, when he’s living in seclusion with his family, when he no longer has judge Falcone to fall back on, Pierfrancesco Favino, who gives a magnificent performance as the main character, says: "I apologise for my major lack of culture." It’s the only point when Buscetta reveals any kind of weakness; the rest of the time, he’s an immensely proud man. He also adheres to a principle that, in my view, is a very noble one: he doesn’t want to die by being murdered; he wants to survive. He’s a theatrical character and is endowed with a very well constructed personality. And incidentally, he introduces himself at the big trial a bit like a leading light in a theatre. That’s what fascinated me the most and is what inspired me to direct this film. At one point, I even felt a little too much empathy with this character; he seemed a bit too nice to me, so I set things straight and redressed the balance at the end of the movie.

Were there any gangster films that influenced you when making The Traitor?
Of course, we’ve all seen those masterpieces about the Mafia – The Godfather, for example, and also a number of Italian flicks. Nevertheless, it would have been a mistake to try to make something different at all costs. Therefore, all of the artists who were involved in creating the film, and I myself, afforded ourselves a lot of freedom in order to try to find our own voice, but we weren’t afraid of trying something new or doing what had already been done.

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(Translated from French)

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