Back in the '60s, postwar Italian cinema flooded American art houses with masterpieces by the greats: Rosselini, Visconti, De Sica, Fellini, and Antonioni. Meanwhile, in Italy, moviegoers favored less heady fare, such as the popular comedies by mainstream directors: Mario Monicelli's Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), Pietro Germi's Divorce, Italian Style (1961), Alberto Lattuada's Mafioso (1962), newly restored here for DVD release. Lattuada, like the others, was no auteur; he helmed workmanlike films over a long career with no consistent style or theme, much to the chagrin of trendy critics of the time, who venerated personal visions. But that didn't prevent Lattuada from creating a number of excellent films, most especially this early and unusual view of the Sicilian Mafia. Italy's well-known funnyman Alberto Sordi plays a vain and self-satisfied technocrat in Milan's industrial North. Eight years away from his roots in rural Sicily, he's acquired a beautiful blonde wife and two adorable daughters, all of whom are about to meet his family back home for the first time. Bathed in nostalgia, the trip to Sicily shifts smartly from the opening factory montage, seducing viewers with the languid camera work. But things soon turn strange and violent, as the proud and successful company man, a comic figure throughout most of the film, is obliged to repay a long-ago favor to the local don. And Lattuada's lens discovers yet another landscape, a bright urban scene that covers some very dark doings. This brilliantly paced piece, with its visual surprises and perfect performances, proves that even a crowd-pleasing director can make a genuine work of art. -

April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

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The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.