Review: The Vanishing of Pato (2010)

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Cast: Nino Frassica, Maurizio Casagrande, Neri Marcorè
Director: Rocco Mortelliti
Country: Italy
Genre: Comedy | Mystery


Editor’s Notes: The following review of The Vanishing of Pato is a part of a collection of reviews by Ronan Doyle during his attendance of the 10th Annual Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Now more commonly associated with the Italian horror films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the term giallo originated as a literary genre of pulp mystery novels. Among the genre’s most prolific authors, Andrea Camilleri’s 2000 novel The Vanishing of Patò forms the source of Rocco Mortelliti’s film of the same name, screened at the 2010 Rome Film Festival but only this month released in its home country. Based around an investigation into the disappearance of a banker who goes missing during a traditional re-enactment of the Passion of Christ, the film combines a tightly plotted mystery story with a comedy of misunderstandings as a Sicilian Carabineri Marshal Giummero and Neapolitan police officer Bellaria are forced to work together to solve the case quickly.

Taking much from Camilleri’s novel, the screenplay is stuffed with ingenious verbal gags and subtle dialogical humour that makes even the most banal conversation—a debate of the precise legal distinctions between the words vanishing and disappearance, for one—an enormously witty ordeal.

By far the greatest strength of The Vanishing of Patò is its comedy, and never for a moment does the laugh count of the film falter. Taking much from Camilleri’s novel, the screenplay is stuffed with ingenious verbal gags and subtle dialogical humour that makes even the most banal conversation—a debate of the precise legal distinctions between the words vanishing and disappearance, for one—an enormously witty ordeal. Giummero and Bellaria’s preparation of their joint report throughout the narrative gives us a constant stream of such moments, the bickering sprinkled throughout an equal mix of funny juvenility and more barbed satire. There is something of a disadvantage here for English-speaking audiences; given the extent to which the film’s humour relies upon dialogue and the richness of the writing, there is no doubt that a good deal of the comedy winds up lost in translation. Still, there’s more than enough in what manages to get conveyed through the subtitles to make The Vanishing of Patò a sharp comedic mystery as witty as it is precisely plotted.

Mortelliti maintains a steady and assured comic pacing that avoids separation of comedy and mystery. Doubtlessly the funniest aspect of the film is the antagonism between the rival investigators, each looking down upon the institution the other represents. It’s a fresh incarnation of the buddy cop formula used not just for the purpose of eliciting laughter, but also to pass comment upon the ludicrousness of the Italian judicial system and the nonsensicality of bureaucracy. There is a seriousness behind the satire that reinforces the incisiveness of the film’s take on such political issues; the few scenes in which we see Bellaria and Giummero’s superiors take a disapproving eye to the corruption of politics and the failings of the organisations allegedly established to protect the people with integrity. The film’s primary register is one of intelligently set up verbal laughs, but there is almost just as much to be chuckled at in the unrelenting way Mortelliti and Camilleri poke fun at the working of their country.

In the inevitable scenes of explanation wherein the heretofore unseen wheels of plot machination are exposed, the script is too assured of its own ingenuity, and the tone leans toward patronising, as every little detail is revisited and explained in excess detail.

The mystery of Patò’s disappearance is beautifully executed in Camilleri’s airtight plotting, giving slight hints throughout but never allowing the audience to assemble the full picture ahead of the detectives themselves. In the final act revelation of the truth behind the mystery, however, the film makes its fair share of mistakes. In the inevitable scenes of explanation wherein the heretofore unseen wheels of plot machination are exposed, the script is too assured of its own ingenuity, and the tone leans toward patronising, as every little detail is revisited and explained in excess detail. It borders on the hand-holding breed of patronisation usually reserved for crafty global villains in subpar spy movies, an unfortunate last minute misstep that slightly undoes the good will thus far accrued by the sheer enjoyableness of the story’s excellent construction. The reveal is a key part in any mystery, and it’s a crying shame to see The Vanishing of Patò lose its way after all the hard work previously put in. Fortunately, however, an unexpected post-explanation plot twist quickly provides a smart narrative addendum and consigns any bad feelings toward the diminutive audience treatment to the past, ending the film on a high note more befitting the fine stuff that came before.

Full to the brim of witty dialogue and pointedly funny criticisms of Italian culture, social divisions, and political issues, The Vanishing of Patò is an almost perfectly structured mystery movie with no shortage of laughs. It may dip in quality toward the end, but Camilleri and Mortelliti manage by the conclusion to reinstate the success they enjoy throughout. A thoroughly enjoyable buddy cop movie enacted with the pristine comic timing of its dual leads, it’s a fun slice of social satire wrapped up in the transfixing packaging of a masterfully constructed plot.

[notification type=”star”]74/100 ~ GOOD. Full to the brim of witty dialogue and pointedly funny criticisms of Italian culture, social divisions, and political issues, The Vanishing of Patò is an almost perfectly structured mystery movie with no shortage of laughs.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.