Editor’s Note: The Mafia Kills Only in Summer was released in North America on DVD April 11, 2017, through Icarus Films.
Arturo knows exactly when he was conceived: December 10, 1969, the day of the Viale Lazio massacre, which took place just down the street from his parents’ home in Palermo. The mafia affects everyone’s life, declares Arturo, and he maintains that the only reason he was born at all is because most of his father’s sperm was scared off by the sound of gunfire, except for the one little guy that would become him.
As a kid, Arturo (played by the charming Alex Bisconti, and as an adult by television personality Pif) was always able to sniff out secret mafia members, even those that various citizens either didn’t believe were mafia or who didn’t want to admit were mafia, simply out of an abundance of self preservation. But Arturo’s sixth sense fails him when it comes to prime minister Giulio Andreotti, who he takes on as a personal hero after seeing him on television. A series of gangland killings in his home town as well as an interest in investigative reporting begins to turn up some troubling things for the young boy, but his father reassures him with a silly tale: it’s winter, and the mafia kills only in the summer.
A dark romantic comedy set during the heady days of the mafia’s reign of terror in Palermo in the late 1970s, The Mafia Kills Only in Summer was written and directed by noted Italian satirist Pif, the nickname of Pierfrancesco Diliberto. Both as a young boy and later, as a 20-something aspiring reporter, Arturo pines for the beautiful Flora (Ginevra Antona as a girl, Cristiana Capotondi as an adult). He’s afraid to pursue her, partly for the usual awkward reasons, but also because of an overheard lie: that a local reporter was killed for getting too close to women, not by the mafia.
It was the mafia, of course, and corruption ran deep in Italian politics. The Mafia Kills Only in Summer uses actual (and frequently gruesome) news footage of the murders, all of which are tangentially related to Arturo, who floats, Forrest Gump-like, through his life, largely unaware of history happening around him. The conceit isn’t entirely successful, mostly due to being so self serving. Pif is far too old to play the late-20s, naïve young man of the second half; his romance with the adult Flora looks ridiculous, simply because no one would believe the two were the same age. He also loves to be in the frame, loves to give the ol’ soulful eyes routine, loves to be the center of attention, which in turn leads to Flora being sidelined to such an extent that entire chunks of plot are just glossed over. Most notably is that Arturo as a young boy is shown as a better journalist than the brave adult reporters, some of whom have real-world analogues, and a few of whom were killed.
The Mafia Kills Only in Summer remains charming and lovely to look at, with bright sunny days and a nostalgia that is accurate without being sentimentalized or cloying. It helps if you have a working knowledge of Italian politics, but the film doesn’t suffer if you don’t. Pif’s writing, acting and directing debut has led to a television show also titled The Mafia Kills Only in Summer, as well as a sequel of sorts, with Arturo and Flora finding love during the Allied occupation of Sicily in WWII.