When 1979 begins, Salvatore Giammaresi (Edoardo Buscetta) is an ordinary Italian 10-year-old in a loving, somewhat eccentric family. His mild-mannered bureaucrat father Lorenzo (Claudio Gioè) advises that honesty, caution and accepting one’s lot in life are the secrets to happiness, but his mother Pia (Anna Foglietta) is so desperate to get a teaching job that she can’t take her husband’s words to heart. Salvatore’s rebellious 16-year-old sister Angela (Angela Curri) is eager to challenge the status quo, particularly when it comes to gender roles. And then there’s his uncle Massimo (Francesco Scianna), who doesn’t let anything hold him back — and is quite fond of offering tips about romance.
Unsurprisingly, Salvatore’s main worries involve friends and girls. Specifically, he’s trying to win over his new classmate Alice (Andrea Castellana), even though his best pals Fofò (Enrico Gippetto) and Sebastiano (Pierangelo Gullo) are also vying for her affection. Alas, if navigating his chaotic home life and exploring youthful affairs of the heart aren’t enough, he’s doing so in the Sicilian city of Palermo. Sure, the weather is warm, the sights are scenic and his local cafe sells mouth-watering sweet treats, but it’s also a mobster haven.
Salvatore’s amusing attempts to grow up, cope with his family and chase his dream girl while surrounded by gangsters drive Italian television series Mafia Only Kills in Summer, which is now available on SBS On Demand. If the name sounds familiar — or if the show’s narration, which is provided by filmmaker and comedian Pierfrancesco Diliberto aka Pif, does as well — there’s a reason for that. The 12-part effort is based on Pif’s 2013 humorous film of the same name, in fact.
Spinning off an Italian cinema hit
Those who haven’t seen the movie needn’t worry — Mafia Only Kills in Summer doesn’t follow on from the award-winning big-screen version, but expands upon the film’s narrative instead. The names have changed, but the situation remains the same as a boy finds that everything is a little more difficult when the mafia is involved. As Salvatore comes of age, he also comes to terms with the reality of the world around him. When a mob-investigating cop is gunned down, for example, he takes a throwaway comment to heart. “In Palermo, it’s women you die for,” his uncle observes, so the naive pre-teen starts fearing that his fondness for Alice will cost him his life.
Indeed, with the premise proving rich with potential on the big screen, the series does what all great film-to-television adaptations do: lets audiences spend more time diving into the details of the story. While it might seem like every movie is being turned into a TV show of late, Mafia Only Kills in Summer easily sits alongside its predecessor as a comic yet heartfelt look at Italian society that’s cognisant of the usual mobster movie clichés while reaching beyond the stereotypes — and will continue to forge its own path when a second series airs in Italy later in 2017.
Salvatore’s so-called life
For all its talk of gangsters in its title, there’s no mistaking that Mafia Only Kills in Summer’s focus firmly rests on a 10-year-old’s formative experiences. For Salvatore, it’s a time when even the most commonplace occurrences can appear truly wondrous, like Alice’s eventual invitation to spend time with her after school. Similarly, even the smallest struggles can seem like major troubles, such as his plan to woo Alice with a pastry, only for Fofò to beat him to the punch with the same idea.
Putting up with Angela’s antics as she follows her own heart and keeps complaining about doing chores around the house; watching his mother wish injury upon her colleagues so that she can get a substitute job; listening to his father’s wary words of warning and his uncle’s confident proclamations: they’re all part of Salvatore’s days as well, with the usual family hijinks ensuing. Not every family also has to battle it out with the mafia, however. In fact, the first episode begins with the Giammaresi clan fleeing town, before the show’s timeline jumps back to the beginning to step through the events that resulted in their sudden, speedy getaway. Accordingly, the family’s immersion into such a murky realm and the end of Salvatore’s innocence clearly go hand-in-hand from the outset.
Intrigue you can’t refuse
Of course, where there’s crime and criminals, there’s ample intrigue. And, when Salvatore crosses paths with Boris Giuliano (Nicola Rignanese), one of Palermo’s top policemen, on the same day that Lorenzo unwittingly bears witness to a mob murder, there’s soon plenty of both. It doesn’t take long for both father and son to start seeing past the shiny façade of their picturesque hometown and come face to face with its shady underbelly — or for their imaginations to kick into overdrive, conjuring up worst-case scenarios.
Cue dreams of gangster threats and beachside hits, as well as one of the revelations about life that Mafia Only Kills in Summer understands best. The world can be a complicated and dangerous place; however, as the Giammaresis become increasingly aware of the Sicilian mob’s presence, what’s running through their heads just might be even more frightening. Interspersing these flights of fancy throughout the main drama helps lighten the mood, and it expresses something that every child becoming an adult comes to realise. Growing up is scary, but not every worry comes true, especially when family is by your side — even when the mafia keeps things interesting.
Mafia Only Kills in Summer is streaming now on SBS On Demand: