Venice 2014: ‘La Trattativa’ review


During the early nineties a series of bombings rocked the cities of Italy. The violence was a response by the Mafia to a political class of socialists and Christian democrats who had come to power via their influence but who were now doing nothing to halt a publicly supported crusade against organised crime. This crusade was typified by two prosecuting magistrates of exceptional bravery, Paolo Borsellino and Giovanni Falcone, whose maxi-trials were eviscerating the higher ranks of the Cosa Nostra. However, on 23 May 1992, a massive explosion destroyed the car carrying Falcone, killing him along with his wife and three police officers of his protection detail, the scorta.

Television programs were suspended, a day of mourning declared and Italy went into shock, but the killing was not finished. Fifty seven days after Falcone’s death, his colleague and friend Paolo Borsellino along with five members of his scorta were killed in another explosion outside his mother’s home in Palermo. It’s against this background that Italian actress and satirist Sabina Guzzanti sets her documentary La Trattativa (2014), which screened as part of Venice’s Orizzonti strand. Her thesis was that a pact at the highest level of government with leading organised crime figures was sought and agreed upon in order to reduce the violence and find a way of convivenza (living together). This pact would reduce the effectiveness of the fight against crime, stop the maxi-trials and weaken the laws which had been brought in to confront the problem of crime.

With a mixture of archive footage, interviews and dramatic reconstructions, Guzzanti strings together a web of associations, patsies, corrupt policemen, conspiracies and politicians, which leads in the end to the formation of a political party – Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – which will amongst other things set out on a crusade against the so-called toghe rosse – the communist magistrates. Berlusconi himself is seen as a perfect front man, precisely because he has no associations with the Mafia and therefore is untainted, and here Guzzanti’s thesis becomes unassailable with a Catch-22 scenario. The absence of proof is damning in itself. One of the leading founders of Forza Italia, Marcello Dell’Utri, has been convicted of association with the Mafia, and this adds a veil of credence to what are essentially suppositions.

La Trattativa will probably prove a confusing swirl for anyone unaware of the secret history and conspiracy theories which plague and yet are inextricable to an understanding of modern Italian history. In most modern democratic societies conspiracy theories are a part of a lunatic fringe, but in Italian society there isn’t a single major event from the murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini to the Amanda Knox trial, from football matches to political election victories that doesn’t have its all too convincing back story of backroom dealings. Guzzanti’s arguments are not without merit but there are also some gaping holes – if there was such a deal involving the upper echelons of crime and politics, why weren’t the laws changed? The links between the Masonic lodge P2, the Mafia and the far right and stated but not demonstrated.

Guzzanti’s decision to not only use reconstructions but also to adopt a postmodern agit-prop style where we see and hear the actors assuming their roles and talking about how they will play the part seems like trivializing self-aggrandizement. Guzzanti’s own role, she appears as Silvio Berlusconi at one point, is distracting and consistently unfunny: she has been appearing as Berlusconi for years now and as he has become an increasingly ridiculous figure so a parody of him feels redundant. There is also an unspoken and unacknowledged family drama going on behind the scenes of La Trattativaitself, as Guzzanti’s own father, Paolo Guzzanti, was a major figure and member of parliament in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.

John Bleasdale