A bittersweet coming-of-age, romantic comedy, Pierfrancesco Diliberto’s debut The Mafia Only Kills in Shadow (2014), reveals a far deeper and more serious love for the Sicilian city of Palermo as it progresses. Taking the lead of the grown-up Arturo under his ridiculous shortened moniker ‘Pif’, Diliberto’s role is a continuation of his earlier incarnation’s hapless youthful endeavours to attract the attention of his classroom crush Flora (played with little charisma as an adult by Cristiano Capatondi), who is unduly influenced by Arturo’s more charming best friend.
Much of the film is overlaid with Arturo’s narration which lends a welcome personal perspective of a life lived in the long shadow cast by the nefarious crime organisation, whilst wallowing in some overly sentimental reminiscences tinged with amusing self-deprecation. However Arturo coming-of-age is necessarily related alongside that of the turmoil of living in a city ruled with a bloody ruthlessness by the Mafia. Sporadically, and to discomfiting effect, Diliberto injects moments of serene seriousness in signposting his character’s youth with horribly memorable news footage of esteemed members of society, like policemen and judges, being caught in the crossfire of the Mafia wars.
Strange contradictions abound in Diliberto’s meandering, sometimes annoyingly trite film. He remains determined to play the nostalgic angle from duel perspectives and though it doesn’t always work, the ultimate payoff is an admittedly eerily moving tribute to Palermo’s character, resoluteness and a memorial for its fallen innocents. That Diliberto can wring such a genuine emotional response using the film’s blatantly trivial romantic story – one that never feels credibly established – as the framework for those final 15 minutes is quite a feat considering the variable quality of his semi-autobiographical film to that point.