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‘The Mafia Kills Only in Summer’ is a dark comedy

If you’re the type that enjoys a good old-fashioned mob flick – and don’t mind a subtitled foreign film – then you’re in for a treat. But be warned, Pierfrancesco Diliberto’s directorial debut, “The Mafia Kills Only in Summer,” isn’t “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas,” or “Casino.”

Billed as a dark comedy, the film follows the life of Arturo, a boy growing up in Palermo, Italy, in the 1970s. And by follows his life, I mean quite literally, as we see the actual sperm that is the future Arturo swim into his mother’s egg in a scene that puts the comedy in dark comedy. Young Arturo is conceived at the exact moment a mob hit is being carried out in his parents’ building, and Arturo sees this pivotal moment of serendipity as the beginning of a lifelong intermingling of his world with Cosa Nostra.

Diliberto is best known in Europe for his work as a television journalist. So his decision to write, direct and star in “The Mafia Kills Only in Summer,” can be described as ambitious to say the least. As the adult Arturo, Pif, as he is known in his native land, offers a credible performance as a star-struck aspiring journalist with a fixation on mob life. Then again, it wasn’t much of a stretch, as the second-generation director has both written about the mob and worked on an earlier film documenting the deadly reign of the Italian mafia.

Despite the fact that the film garnered a European Film Award for Best European Comedy, “The Mafia Kills Only in Summer” plays out more like a love story splattered in the blood of a dozen or more gruesome mob kills than a comedy.

Young Arturo (Alex Bisconti) follows the mafia reign of terror over his hometown with such an odd fascination that he begins keeping a scrapbook documenting the efforts of then-Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to eradicate Cosa Nostra. But it is a young, golden-haired classmate named Flora (Ginevra Antona) that has equal hold over Arturo and much of the film is dedicated to his quest to win her love.

“The Mafia Kills Only in Summer” is at its best when documenting the destructive force the mob is having on Palermo and its citizens. The use of “news footage” gives it a feel of authenticity, and by the end, as the body count climbs, you’ll find yourself wondering, is anyone safe?

While his role as a director leaves room for critique, and at 42 years old, playing a college graduate half his age is a tough sell, Diliberto shows his chops as a writer. The script is brimming with well-written lines ranging from the comedic to the romantic, and in periods where the film feels like it is getting bogged down, it is regularly rescued by a well-timed line.

Arturo’s fixation with the mafia plays out well, with a vibe similar to “A Bronx Tale.” His love affair (in his own mind) with Flora is where the film falls short. While cute when told as a grade-school crush, as adults, their reunion feels forced, and their on-screen chemistry is nonexistent, save for a flurry in the last moments of the film that didn’t feel genuine and failed to do justice to what is an overall solid effort.

The Mafia Kills ONly in Summer

3 stars

Starring: Pierfrancesco Diliberto, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona

Director: Pierfrancesco Diliberto

Running time: 90 minutes

Rating: Not rated, but PG-13 equivalent for strong language. In Italian with subtitles.

The Lowdown: A boy grows up in the shadow of the Italian mafia and develops dual infatuations with the mob and a girl.

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