[Film review] Mafia Mamma

Review by John P. Harvey.

Already under constant pressure to help out everyone at home as well as in her demanding job, Kristin (Toni Collette), who has lived in the United States since she was a baby, learns that she is expected to attend her grandfather’s funeral and sort out his affairs — in Italy.  Of course, to do so is out of the question, with work projects pending and a husband needing her support.  But when betrayal at work is followed by betrayal at home, Kristin’s high-powered lawyer friend and Krav Maga classmate Jenny (Sophia Nomvete) persuades her to do something for herself: attend her grandfather’s funeral and then see the sights and play around.

Once Kristin lands in Italy and meets her relations and her grandfather’s “general”, Bianca (Monica Bellucci), she learns that she has inherited her grandfather’s position as head of his winemaking family.  Finding herself with no alternative, Kristin sets out to solve the family’s fatal problems with another family competing in its various endeavours which she discovers cross various boundaries of morality and law, including prostitution, smuggling, gambling, firearms, and drug peddling.  And then there are the many sudden deaths on both sides.

In among all this, Kristin meets a stranger, Lorenzo (Giulio Corso), who seems serious about winning her heart, but who cannot know the family’s true business.  And she faces hostility from within the family, as her new position is contested.

Nobody stands out in the movie as the comic; every role is serious.  Yet the entire movie breaks out in comedy.  It’s the conflict between established Mafia practice and Kristin’s outsider’s take, first on escaping all this and then on dealing with it, that sets everybody up for the comically unexpected, even in the midst of occasional bloody violence.

Even with its occasional bloody violence, Mafia Mamma offers consistent comedic surprise in its clash of families, its clash of cultures, and its clash of temperaments as the thoroughly American Kristin learns what it means to become part of a traditionally rural, traditionally volatile family whose lives teeter on the edge of explosive conflict.

An all-round treat.

Screening at Dendy, Palace, Hoyts, and Limelight cinemas.

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