erasing clouds

No more hidden truths: in praise of Marco Tullio Giordana's movie I Cento Passi

by Anna Battista

"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate questions a man who stands in front of him. Pilate is skeptical, as the man is stating that He is the son of God come to the world to bear witness unto the truth. I've always thought that that's one of the best questions ever put by any man. What. Is. Truth. Just three words after all, but three words which have the power to cause a whole revolution. Try to answer them. Try to define the word "truth." Try to say YOUR truth about something. You'll see it's rather arduous. In a way, I think I found part of a truth last year, in a movie. If I had to draw a list of the best movies I saw in the year 2000 I would put at its top Marco Tullio Giordana's I Cento Passi (One Hundred Steps) . If I had to compile a list of the greatest things which happened in Italy in the year 2000, I would put at its top Marco Tullio Giordana's movie. Why? Because it's a great movie, about a great man, or rather, about a great young man. Besides, it's about the TRUTH.

Thursday 16th November 2000, 9 o'clock p.m., Massimo Theatre, Pescara (Italy) - People are buzzing around the theatre as if we were in Los Angeles trying to get into the Oscar Awards ceremony. Police is patrolling the street and only those who have bought an advanced ticket can get into the theatre. "What are all these policemen doing around here, mum?" a teenager pressed next to me asks his mother, "They're here to defend us: fascists might come and start a riot, you never know…" his mother ironically replies as if we were going to attend a risky left wing political meeting for the next elections. Actually the police are here because they are trying to contain all the fuss and fret caused by a special movie, "I Cento Passi", directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, screenplay by Claudio Fava and Monica Zapelli. The director of the movie, Marco Tullio Giordana, a member of the Anti-Mafia Committee, Giovanni Russo Spena, and an Italian journalist, Michele Gambino, are also scheduled to appear after the movie for a meeting with the enthusiastic audience. This is just an ordinary night in which a movie about an unusually brave young man is going to be screened.

The man in question is called Giuseppe Impastato and he was born on 5th January 1948 in a village called Cinisi, in Sicily, Italy. Giuseppe, known to his family and friends as Peppino, understands since he is a kid the connection his village and his family entertain with the local Mafia and in particular with the Mafia boss don Gaetano, better known simply as Tano, Badalamenti, who lives at only 100 steps from Peppino and his family's doorstep. Little by little Peppino learns to despise the Mafia and from 1968 on he joins left wing parties and groups and starts organising and supporting the farmers and landowners whose ground has been expropriated to build the Punta Raisi airport. Tired of all the abuses of power perpetrated by the local Mafia, Peppino starts rebelling, writing incendiary articles and starting with his friends and comrades a pirate radio, 'Radio Aut', founded in 1976. From its airwaves, Peppino accuses the Mafia in Cinisi and Terrasini of controlling the drugs and arms trafficking through the airport. Through the radio Peppino mocks Tano Badalamenti, dubbing him "Tano Seduto, capo di Mafiopoli" and opposes his power (the sentence "Tano Seduto, capo di Mafiopoli" translates as: "Sitting Tano, head of Mafiopolis"; "Tano Seduto" is a pun on "Toro Seduto", the Italian nickname for Indian chief Sitting Bull).

In 1978 Peppino decides to stand as Town-Councillor for Cinisi for the Democrazia Proletaria Party list. But, on the night between 8th and 9th May, he is kidnapped, laid down on the railway tracks in Cinisi and blasted with a charge of TNT stuck to his back. The inquiries about his death are diverted, the Police and the Carabinieri try to demonstrate that he committed suicide, an accuse supported by Major Antonio Subranni, or that he accidentally died while trying to plant a bomb in an awkward terrorist attempt which recalls editor Feltrinelli's death. Years later a repented Mafia collaborator, Salvatore Palazzolo, accuses Tano Badalamenti of having ordered the killing of Giuseppe Impastato, but Peppino's friends and family had already been supporting this accusation on the day after he was killed and had started a counter inquiry which has lasted 22 years and which has finally come to the truth.

I Cento Passi, starring Luigi Lo Cascio (as Peppino Impastato), Luigi Maria Burruano (as Luigi Impastato), Tony Sperandeo (as Gaetano Badalamenti), Lucia Sardo (as Felicia Impastato), Ninni Bruschetta (as cousin Anthony) and Paolo Briguglia (as Giovanni Impastato), starts in the '50s in Cinisi, a village immersed in family reunions, lulled by the music of Italian crooner Domenico Modugno with his hit "Volare." The movie then passes through the revolutionary '60s and gets to that doomed day of May 1978 in which while the body of the politician Aldo Moro, killed by the Red Brigades, is found in Rome, Peppino is slaughtered in Cinisi. The last shots of I Cento Passi show Peppino Impastato's funeral, on the notes of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale." "On the day Aldo Moro's body was found, the newspapers headlined 'Town-Councillor commits suicide throwing himself on the railway tracks the day before the pools take place'," Marco Tullio Giordana remembers how he first heard about Peppino Impastato, "This piece of news was squashed in the last pages of the papers and I naturally thought it was a lie, but the first inquiries went in that direction, that of the suicide."

In the year 2000, I Cento Passi was awarded for the best screenplay at the Venice Movie Festival and in November 2000 chances were that it would have been presented even at the Oscar Awards, representing Europe in the 'Best Foreign Movie' category. Director of movies such as Maledetti vi amerò, Appuntamento a Liverpool and Pasolini, un delitto italiano, Marco Tullio Giordana recounts the audience how he was approached by the screenwriters who penned the movie screenplay together, "Claudio Fava and Monica Zapelli had written this beautiful screenplay, I Cento Passi and on the day they came together with a young producer, Fabrizio Mosca, to let me see it, I refused it because I wondered 'How can I direct the actors? How can I tell an actor say this cue in the Sicilian dialect, a dialect I don't know?' after all I was born in Milan and I've been living for 25 years in Rome. Besides, I was frightened by the clichés of cinema, because accepting this screenplay would have meant to do the umpteenth movie about Mafia, about the good against the bad and Mafia is a such a grave pathology, such a bad illness for our country, which the issue can't be turned into a crime movie or a thriller. I liked Claudio Fava, Monica Zapelli and Fabrizio Mosca, but I didn't feel like doing the screenplay. But what got me to make up my mind was having a few trips to Sicily. One day I met Peppino Impastato's mother, Felicia Bartolotta Impastato, his brother Giovanni and his friends. Peppino Impastato's mother didn't find her peace of mind for twenty years and in front of these people I realised my doubts were nothing. So I had the idea of getting all the actors in Sicily: in this way they would have spoken their own language and I wouldn't have had to correct anything but the camera frames. I also decided to shoot the movie right there so that all the citizens might have given their contribution, either the citizens who accompanied Peppino Impastato's coffin at his funeral or those who gave their negative contribution to his memory, keeping the shutters closed, those citizens to whom Peppino showed he was stronger than them because though they murdered him, they didn't kill him. The most moving thing for me was the day in which Peppino's mother told me 'I'm Peppino's mother, but you are his mother too, because you gave him life for a second time.' This, I think, is the best review the movie ever got. Perhaps this is the most beautiful thing I was ever told about this movie, this remark goes behind the great success it got and the professional merits which are two very important things for a director."

So Marco Tullio Giordana must be thanked for telling us the story of Peppino, but he must also be thanked for having reopened with this movie the Impastato case. Tonight there is also Giovanni Russo Spena, part of the anti-Mafia committee and chairman of the committee which studied the Impastato case, who starts his speech by thanking Giordana "First of all I must thank Marco Tullio Giordana," he states, continuing: "I saw this movie 12 times, I presented this movie in 12 Italian cities and we've also been presenting it in various schools, in Rome and in Milan for instance. Tonight here in Pescara there are 600 young people inside this theatre and 600 outside it. It looks like an emotive tide has born on the wake of this movie and Marco Tullio Giordana is making a piece of history through this film, but I think that I Cento Passi is also helping all those who are working to build an anti-Mafia conscience today in this country. It is a very hard job because the Mafia that slaughtered, the Mafia that killed, the Mafia that planted bombs today seems to have disappeared. But the Mafia has gone underground, it is working underground and it is re-building its relations with politics, with what they call 'the new politics', but which is actually old and goes back to the times of 'Tano Seduto'. This Mafia growing inside the globalisation is intertwining international relations and it's not true that, and I can state this as a man who for many years has been interested in this problem, the Mafia thrives in Palermo, the Camorra or 'Ndrangheta reside in Calabria or the Sacra Corona Unita operates in Bari, Brindisi or Taranto. The Mafia sanctuaries are in Geneva, in Losanna, in Liechtenstein, in Milan where money is recycled. This is the new Mafia, so we must say thank you to Marco Tullio Giordana if in this very difficult moment a new anti-Mafia conscience has reborn. Then I must thank Marco Tullio Giordana in the name of all those men and women, all those comrades, who lived that political event, I myself have lived that event, as I was at that funeral. At the time I was the man responsible for the organisation of the party called Democrazia Proletaria."

Giovanni Russo Spena remembers the day of the funeral which is also showed on the screen. At the end of the movie Peppino's mother says to the American cousin, to the American Cosa Nostra, "I don't want any revenge, he's not part of the Mafia family", but the Mafia boss from the States answers, "Everyone has forgotten him, only the Family, the Mafia will remember him as a member of this family." Then Felicia, with whom from then on, every year Impastato's friends remember Peppino, replies, "No, the comrades haven't forgotten him." And his comrades truly haven't forgotten him. "We, Peppino's friends and comrades, made a pact between us," Giovanni Russo Spena recounts, "and the counter inquiry started immediately, that same counter inquiry which is marvellously traced at the end of the movie." The Carabinieri's and the Police's inquiry was based on a letter which was considered Peppino's suicide moniker, but couldn't be as it was written many years before, as also the movie shows. Peppino was also hit with a few stones and once unconscious he was brought on the railway tracks where he was laid down. The inquiry denied the blood on the stones was Peppino's, but declared that the stones were found in a cottage in which people went to make love, so that was menstrual blood.

Giovanni Russo Spena has worked for years at the Impastato case, as he underlines: "This morning, 16 November 2000, I have presented the report on Peppino Impastato's murder and on the sidetracking of the investigations. It wasn't easy, we have been sabotaged many times and we will continue to be sabotaged, but we hope that the anti-Mafia committee will approve this report which is the result of the work done together with a team of very good national and international experts during 16 months of works, on 13,000 papers, which included many witnesses, also the evidence from marshal Travali who didn't believe the investigations his superiors were carrying out and joined the funeral in civilian dress. The committee has started the works from a question: 'Why has the trial started only 22 years after?' We ourselves at the committee aren't making a trial. We are one of the most important bicameral committees, an anti-Mafia committee in which there are members of the Senate and of the Chamber of Deputies who are nationally renowned."

"I have the honour of being the chairman of the committee who must inquiry on the reason why the truth, which in this case was an evident truth, wasn't discovered right on the spot. Here I can only say that we made a very careful analysis which gained us national and international praises from all those who read it. We went beyond the problem and we studied it in depth trying to make emerge the evidences that had been put in the dark. If our report is accepted, then we will manage to do something which has never been done by an anti-Mafia committee. In Italy we are living in a phase of unpunished murders: the bicameral committee on slaughters tragically closed its works yesterday without reaching any results. Most killings in Italy will remain largely unpunished even though everyone knows what happened. Our report closes with the suggestion that all the great murders committed by the Mafia, such as Nando Dalla Chiesa, Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino's murders, will find that same careful analysis that for a series of reasons Impastato's murder has found."

"Personally, I think that after 32 years my political life might come to an end if we'd manage to get this report accepted. For me it is very important because it is a knot of the historical memory which would be finally untangled. With our report we discover why Peppino was troublesome: he was troublesome because he understood before the others the transformation the Mafia was undergoing. From being agrarian the Mafia, expanded its interests into the tenders and finally turned the airports and the harbours of that place into the focal point of the drug trafficking and gun smuggling. We even discovered that in that part the relations between the public forces and the Mafia were tight. I can affirm that we never found a single dossier written by the Criminal Investigation Department, by the Police or by the Carabinieri, on the Mafia's presence in those territories. And we're not talking about a small village in the mountains of Sicily, we are talking about an area of Palermo in which there is the airport, it's at 16 km from Palermo. You probably won't believe it, but, according to their reports, there isn't any Mafia there. The committee directed by us discovered, working on all the archives from 1957 up to today, that from 1957 to 1978 the year in which Peppino died, there isn't any proper dossier on the Mafia on those territories. We only found three dossiers and they regarded Peppino Impastato: for instance one was about a sit-in organised by Peppino Impastato and the Radio-Aut comrades and one was about the occupation of the lands. Indeed Peppino wasn't a solitary hero, but an organiser, he organised the farm-labourers, the braccianti, he was a land trade unionist, a man who led the collective struggles. What comes out of those dossiers is that there wasn't any Mafia there, but there was a group of troublemakers who had understood many things and who were going to elect in the Town Council a brave young man, who indeed was elected after his death as Town-Councillor."

"Everyone had understood that Peppino would have used the institutions in an alternative way and once in power he wouldn't opportunistically have divided the profits of the tenders between himself and the others. By then Peppino was part of a national strategy of a national party, Democrazia Proletaria, who, though small, had its own newspapers, its own magazines and was spreading a sort of counter information, a kind of information which was unheard of, which was interesting and intelligent. Peppino was the first who did many inquiries through the radio in Sicily and these things would have become the characteristics of a national strategy if he hadn't been killed. Peppino was troublesome, he wasn't an isolated hero, he had to be killed, he had to die."

"The inquiry was very very easy, the grievous thing is that those who had to conduct the inquiries on Impastato's death managed to divert the investigations. If they approve it, I'd like to entitle the report on Peppino's murder 'Anatomy of a Deviation' because it is the anatomy of a deviation, of a deflection of a few sectors of the Italian state, because the Mafia was inside the Italian State. I don't know if we'll make it, if we'll escape the sabotages, and if they'll approve this report in December," Giovanni Russo Spena, concludes, adding "If we do it, it will be the first time that a bicameral parliamentary committee, while there is still a process in act, discovers that there were those who swayed the investigations from their course, who didn't WANT to discover who committed the murder: it would be extraordinary as it would be extraordinary to find the truth of the Ustica case. I don't know if we'll make it, perhaps we've aimed at such a difficult goal and we won't make it, but I'm sure that if we make it, we'll say many thanks to Marco Tullio Giordana and to this movie."

And yet there was something which someone criticised in Giordana's movie, first of all the tragic conclusion of the story: apparently someone asked the director to change it. "If I were able to rewrite history, the first thing I'd do would be changing the end of the story!", he exclaims. The second accuse was that at the end of the movie there are too many red flags, carried by Peppino's friends, "What I want to make clear is that when we applaud to this movie, we are applauding at the figure of a young man who fought with courage," Girodana states, "We aren't applauding at the colour of the flags, but at the example set by a man. I put the red flags there because there were red flags at the funerals and I would have put black flags if they had been of that colour." Still the majority of the people loved "I Cento Passi", "Young people like this movie because they are told that it is possible to believe in an ideal and not to receive this daily jab of cynicism," Marco Tullio Giordana explains, "The times to come are always better than those which were, it's not true that the past is better, the older generation wants the younger to believe the opposite to let their ideals and illusions die, but ideals renovate as time passes and every kid should rebel to his father, even to a good father. Mafia is above all a culture, a set of values which are transmitted, which are considered as sacred values which children must respect. Peppino Impastato broke all this not only with his denounce, but also with his talent, the talent of an actor to expose to ridicule Tano Badalamenti, a name which they still fear to pronounce in Cinisi today."

What comes out of the movie is the figure of a young, brave man, who took the Mafia around, making cruel jokes about it from the microphones of a pirate radio, "The idea of the radio starts from the needs and from the necessity to organise the society on the territory," Giovanni Russo Spena states, "Radio Aut's most famous programme was called 'Onda Pazza' ('Crazy Wave') and it was done by Peppino Impastato and his friends. All the programmes were closed by a sentence by Brecht, which stated that it's not granted that all the things which never were, will never be. Hence it wasn't granted that in Cinisi a shabby group of young people wouldn't manage to start a sound anti-Mafia criticism through a radio, inside that town, inside that territory. The programme was called 'Onda Pazza', because 'pazzo', crazy, in Sicilian indicates the capacity to subvert the order of the things, I'm a crazy man if and when I want to subvert the order of the things."

Journalist Michele Gambino starts from the radio issue to encourage the people in the theatre to write and to react to the constant apathy in which young people are often thrown: "Today it's difficult to open a radio, because it's often expensive, but it's easy to make a newspaper with the new technologies, everything has been simplified, so it should be easier. I've been a journalist for 20 years and I know how much it is difficult, I work for a very old and noble newspaper, Avvenimenti, which is risking to close down because people don't read much and what they read is mostly bad. But I'd like to invite the young people in this theatre to write. I believe that whoever feels like communicating, and by communicating I mean to use one's critical spirit, can do it with a few expenses, you just need a computer, a good writing programme and an editing programme. These means might be used to place yourself as critical subjects in front of the reality of the school, of the area in which you live, of the building you live in, of the group of friends you hang around with."

Marco Tullio Giordana concludes this meeting explaining that I Cento Passi is not only a movie about the Mafia in Sicily, "This is also a movie about the '70s," he underlines, "That was a moment of absolute internationalism: during the '70s in Cinisi, in Prague, in Paris, in San Francisco, all the kids wanted to change things, to feel the same things and that was the real globalisation I liked, though I wouldn't have called it like that. Today the so called 'globalisation' is a pretence, actually it is the reformation of the small cultures which don't communicate between themselves because there is only one great code which has substituted them, a great, simplified and vapid code. In the '70s this was called exchange and not globalisation and it encouraged the individualities: the more you stayed all together, the more you confronted with the others and valorised yourself. I'm grateful for the '70s, I'm happy for having lived them and I don't have to be ashamed of them," the director seems to conclude, but then he starts once again, "…and I promise you I'll fight over my movie at the Oscars like a wild beast. I'd like to see a standing ovation of the American audience in front of Peppino Impastato's funeral."

6th December 2000 - Giovanni Russo Spena's report is officially approved by the whole anti-Mafia committee. The report is divided in three parts: the first regards Tano Badalamenti's role inside the local Mafia and his connections with the American Cosa Nostra and his links with the public authorities in Sicily; the second part analyses the territory in which Impastato's murder was accomplished; the third part is entirely dedicated to Giuseppe Impastato. Images of the Peppino Imastato's trial are broadcast by the TV: a frail Felicia, Peppino's mother, can be seen in front of the judge, she looks as thin as a rake, but she owns the strength of a millennial oak; in video conference there is Tano Badalamenti right from the States, from New York, where he was jailed in the late '80s, being condemned to 45 years for drug smuggling.

January 2001 - Marco Tullio Giordana goes to Los Angeles to present his movie to the Academy Awards panel; the Feltrinelli publishing house releases the screenplay of I Cento Passi by Claudio Fava and Monica Zapelli.

13 February 2001 - the final candidatures for the Oscar Awards are made public. I Cento Passi is not among them; Italy is represented by Giuseppe Tornatore's insipid Malena.

25th March 2001 - Oscar Awards Ceremony - No final mentioning for great excluded I Cento Passi, just a great hassle about Russell Crowe and the historically flawed Gladiator.

Too much often truth is unattainable, unreachable. Too much often truth is bend to the rules of corrupted people, the culprits are defended, the innocents are guilty. There are trials in Italy which have never been solved, trials which will never be solved because they involve untouchable politicians, because they involve the international secret services, because they involve Mafia bosses who must be protected, otherwise, hey brother, you wouldn't be able to wake up the day after. Everyday injustices are perpetrated all over the world, but Italy has got a great tradition of unpunished injustices: fake trials, people slaughtered by mysterious killers, judges murdered by hired assassins, corruption spreading in a net of impossible truths and possible lies. The general attitude is to teach even kids in school not to answer back, not to express their opinions, not to react because it would be better to shut up instead of challenging the institutions, whatever they may be. Because the teacher's slogan is 'Let's not give them the instruments to understand and rebel, just give them the instruments to bend to their masters and to the bosses', after all, a frightened donkey is more manageable than a frightening bull. At school and later at university I was cowardly taught to do the same and not to contradict the people in power. But if I did I'd give my humble tribute to a society and a way of thinking I naturally came to disrespect, the society of silence.

There's a song by Asian Dub Foundation entitled "Truth Hides." It says "Truth hides under fallen rocks and stones / At the end of a disconnected phone / Truth hides down an unmarked street / Buried deep beneath your feet / Truth hides in people written out of history." In my life I have learnt one thing for sure: when truth hides, it is because there are all the intentions to let it hide. The question remains, how long will the truth hide? As long as people, the people who know will shut up, is my answer "…until the day we decide to dig a little deeper / We know that truth will hide," the Asian Dub Foundation's track continues. The Giuseppe Impastato case has somehow come to its terms, revealing that 22 years of protests, of inquiries, researches and investigations led by Peppino's family and friends haven't been useless, but have brought to a tangible result. There are still too many disgustingly hidden truths in Italy: I sometimes wonder if we need more movies to catch them out of the oubliettes in which someone enclosed them.

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