Dazed and Confused
Because Alexander Stille is a first-rate journalist, I wouldn't want him to give up his day job--a possibility that fortunately seems remote, judging from his performance in the documentary Excellent Cadavers. As author of the book on which the film is based--an account of the efforts of a few courageous magistrates to break the Mafia's power in Sicily--he serves director Marco Turco as an on-screen tour guide, gamely strolling into this archive or that library to pull volumes off the shelf and be photographed examining them. You watch with sympathy as Stille waits for the shot to end, so he can quit this pretense of research. After the eighth or ninth such sequence, you wish Turco would cut you loose, too.
Directorial awkwardness is always easy to deride. (Have I mentioned the fascinating shots of Stille pretending to type?) But in Excellent Cadavers, the importance of the subject matter and the impeccability of the reportage triumph over stylistic shortcomings.
Turco and Stille frame the story with the murders in 1992 of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, magistrates who had spent years investigating the Mafia in Palermo at great cost to themselves and their families. These men had put many of the most important bosses in jail for life. They even had begun to expose the continuing connection between the Mafia and Italy's political elite--an act that would prove fatal. The archival footage that Turco has amassed of the magistrates is stunning, especially whenever Falcone reveals the true face of heroism. He was an unassuming man, quiet and self-deprecating.
Excellent Cadavers takes an honorable place in a line that stretches from Margarethe von Trotta's Il Lungo Silenzio and Ricky Tognazzi's La Scorta to Francesco Rosi's early masterpiece, Salvatore Giuliano. You can catch the US premiere at New York's Film Forum starting July 12.