Pierfrancesco Favino: “The Traitor turns away from the clichés of the film on the mafia”

Meeting with the main actor of Marco Bellocchio’s Traitor, this Sunday on Arte.

Update of May 22, 2022: The traitor by Marco Bellocchio tells the story of one of the first repentants of the Sicilian Mafia, Tommaso Buscetta. It is portrayed with class and tension by Pierfrancesco Favino. On the occasion of its first television broadcast, this evening on Arte, we share our interview with the actor.

Interview of October 29, 2019: Place des Vosges in Paris. The Queen’s Pavilion. The hotel is so pretty that it has become a favorite meeting place for promotional film crews. Pierfrancesco Favino receives guests in the living room of a suite plunged into relative darkness. The 50-year-old Italian comedian – deja vu in Romanzo Criminale, Angels and Demons, ACAB…) does not immediately give off a particular aura. He is the discreet type. It is the very type of profile that reveals itself once in the light of the headlights of a camera. Robert de Niro is a bit like that. Favino also resembles him a little in this very nervous way of considering each role. In The traitor by Marco Bellocchio in competition at the last Cannes Film Festival, Favino is Tommaso Buscetta, one of the first mobsters to confide in a judge to denounce the mafia’s small indoor kitchen. These revelations led to the Maxi-Trial of Palermo between February 1986 and December 1987 involving 437 defendants including the main sponsors of Cosa Nostra. At the center of the debates, the rogue Tommaso Buscetta behind his imposing black glasses, is alone against all. A role he assumes until the end, giving him the look of both the white knight and the lost man. In the middle of this ocean of contradictions, Pierfrancesco Favino, masterful, composes a mysterious character.

Before this Traitoryou had already filmed with Marco Bellocchio in The Prince of Homburg in 1997 ?

Pierfrancesco Favino (in perfect French): More than twenty years ago! I had tried out for the lead role. Without success. I still inherited a small role. I was very bad in the film. Marco also cut quite a few of my scenes. I was coming out of my theater school and couldn’t find the right tone in front of a movie camera, all the more so because The Prince of Homburg was inspired by a play [d’Heinrich von Kleist] I remember that between takes, the set remained bathed in a warm, twilight light, the actors kept their period costumes. It was disturbing. I also took the opportunity to observe Marco [Bellocchio] at work. He has a very particular way of working.

That is to say ?

PF: With Marco, everything happens on set, never before. He is like a painter. He makes his decision once in front of his model in a sort of creative trance. In Italy, we have lost this way of doing things, surely because of pressure from producers. The generation to which Marco belongs [le cinéaste a 79 ans. Son premier long-métrage Les poings dans les poches date de 1965] thought of cinema like that. He often told me on the set of Traitor : “I would like to be able to redo what I have already shot in order to improve, to correct… We don’t always make the right decision on the spot! This way of doing things seems unthinkable with today’s production systems. The producers of Traitor however, gave him that freedom. This is exceptional.

How did you end up playing Tommaso Buscetta?

PF: When I knew that Marco wanted to tell his life story, I did everything to get the role. So I knocked on his door to convince him: “Your character is me, I want to do it!” » He said to me: « You did well to come to see me, I had forgotten about you… » So he gave me several tests. He had no room for error. On a project like this, to get the wrong actor is to get the wrong film.

How did you manage to convince him?

PF: By deviating as far as possible from the cliché that generally surrounds the mafia, a guy who is necessarily grandiloquent, boastful and above all glamorous. I learned a lot about Tommaso Buscetta, he was nothing like the classic criminal. He was a unique personality. Clever, intelligent, manipulative… We did some tests on a few scenes. It was very stimulating. I was happy, because I felt deeply that I would be able to rise to the height of the role. I had to wait six months between the end of the tests and the positive response from Marco. The Traitor turns away from all the clichés of the film about the mafia.

This character remains very mysterious. How did you approach it?

PF: Difficult to answer. The actor that I am will tell you that I was 100% with him. Take her tears at the end. They are true. I feel a kind of sadness when taking it. Once in the skin of a simple spectator, I have doubts about the honesty of the character. I then find myself faced with a wall. Buscettta has spent his life hiding his identity, changing appearances… He’s hard to follow. Interestingly, his father was a mirror maker. Tommaso Buscetta therefore grew up with all these mirrors around him. He who will then spend his life changing his face. There is surely something at play at that time, in this childhood populated by reflections. The man has however always claimed values, a precise line of conduct… He even succeeded in overturning everything during the Maxi-Trial of Palermo by affirming: “I am not a repentant, it is you the godfathers, who had deceived everyone, it was you who betrayed me! You still have to be cheeky to say such a thing. I’m sure he ends up believing it himself. Buscetta was a very vain person who managed to deceive his world, starting with journalists and lawyers.

Why is it interesting to tell this story, precisely today?

PF: This story is actually relatively little known. Everything surrounding the Maxi-Trials up to the assassination of Judge Falcone may be, but the stories leading up to this chaos, not really. However, even today, Italy has not finished with mafia trials. People need to be informed. Do these trials provide answers and present the truth? I do not believe that. For example, there remain gray areas around the death of Judge Falcone. But his death is a milestone in the history of crime in Italy. It marks the end of one era and the beginning of another. This is what the film shows. When Buscetta makes fun of the old mafia godfathers, he asserts that they are the representatives of a world that no longer exists. The codes have changed. You always have to talk about the mafia, it still exists, it has just changed. The mafia is today in finance, in art. We don’t see her anymore. It’s more insidious. But in the cinema, we are still hooked on the image of the Italian-American mafia, with its old-fashioned godfathers.

Your character that you played in Romanzo Criminale by Michele Placido (2005), however, responded to the cliché of the criminal…

PF: He was indeed very “cool”, very glamorous. The viewer needs to identify with anti-heroes like this? It’s a way to escape. Cinema has that power. There is no denying it. However, when you grapple with reality, you are forced to leave these chimerical shores. You couldn’t treat Tommaso Buscetta’s story that way, it would have been unhealthy and dishonest. Judge Falcone is a hero in Italy. You can’t smear his memory.

The sequence of the death of Judge Falcone is impressive with the camera embedded in the car…

PF: It was important to leave the camera in this place because there is a part of us who are spectators, which dies with it, something breaks. After that, nothing will be like before. Italian social and political life was forever changed. Well, that remains my interpretation because Marco is the kind of filmmaker who refuses to intellectualize things.

The image of the Mafia has sometimes been confused with the image of Italy as a whole…

PF: Of course! We would therefore be a violent, corrupt people… But The traitor shows the true face of these criminals and thus thwarts the viewer’s vision. Take these mobsters behind bars who still cling to their old traditions… Some have even had their faces redone to look more elegant and find themselves confronted with their own disappointments, their own lies.

The Traitor: Last Steps in the Mafia [critique]

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