one hundred steps (2002)

director: marco tullio giordano

luigi lo cascio, lucia sardo, claudio gioe

The true story behind Marco Tullio Giordano’s One Hundred Steps is the kind of gift filmmakers pray for, full of real drama, heroism, and a movie villain of unprecedented complexity - the mafia. The hundred steps of the title is the precise distance between the family home of Peppino Impastato and the local mafia chieftain, Tano Badalamenti, who owns Peppino’s family, along with almost everything else in the Sicilian town of Cinisi.

While just a boy, his favorite uncle, a rival mafia boss, is killed by a car bomb. Looking for answers when nobody in the town wants to say anything, he becomes the spearhead of local youth rebelling against authority in the heady late sixties and early seventies. In the rest of the world, rebellion means protesting the church or government, but in Sicily, the only real power is held by the mafia, and Peppino is pitted against his own family.

As Peppino, Luigi Lo Cascio is fantastic, brimming with an anarchic charisma more reminiscent of punk stars like Iggy Pop. The film, which starts out like a missing chapter of the Godfather saga, takes on real complexity while exploring how the rebellious energy of Peppino and his friends becomes diverted into the politically toothless hedonism of the seventies, a trend that Peppino resists as the powers-that-be encourage it.

His relationship with his parents also adds a compelling new dimension to what might have just been another tale from a socially uproarious era. His father, owned wholly by the mob, is tortured by his son’s dangerous attitude, while his mother (Lucia Sardo) covertly supports her boy, despite the obvious tragedy his stances threatens to bring on himself and the whole family.

When Peppino takes his rebellion to the next logical level, running for local government on an anti-mafia platform, their worst fears are realized, and Peppino is assassinated by Tano’s hired thugs. By this point, though, the film has taken on an almost sanctimonious tone, preparing for Peppino’s martyrdom, and it squanders most of the dramatic energy that animated what was so satisfyingly nuanced a story. The events in One Hundred Steps might be true, but there’s a depressingly inevitable set of cliches that political filmmaking brings to every story, fiction or not, and once again they’ve transformed a really compelling tale into a solemn lecture.