Angela was established. These Italian films have fallen

Angela Wesson

Prof. Giulia DeLisle

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Italian Directors and

December 16, 2017

The Representation of Women in Italian Mafia Films

            The mafia is a network of
organized-crime groups that came to rise in the 19th century.  Originally, the mafia did not have any
criminal connotations.  The term was used
to refer to people who were suspicious of governmental authority.  By the late 19th century, these
groups began to extort protection money from landowners which resulted in the
dangerous criminal organization that we know today ( staff).  The mafia’s influence grew until the 1920s
when Mussolini came to power and launched a crackdown on the mafia because he
believed it would interfere with his Fascist regime.  In the 1950s the mafia rose again after the
building boom when construction companies were backed by mafia members
( staff).  The criminal empire
continued to expand over the next few decades. 
Although the mafia isn’t as prevalent in modern times, it still exists.                                                                                                     The
mafia’s uprising has been depicted in several Italian films over the
years.  The films have shown the kind of
power the mafia had over governmental organizations.  They also exposed how this type of regime
affected the people of Italy, primarily Sicily where the mafia was
established.  These Italian films have
fallen into certain archetypes that have depicted people affected by the mafia
in a stereotypical manner.  The gangster
of the mafia genre has typically revolved around the question of masculinity
and sexuality.  This results in female
characters to be marginalized to stereotypically homosocial spaces (O’Rawe
1).  Italian films have shown women as
powerless and unaware of the severity of the situation.  This paper will focus on three Italian films:
To Each His Own, Angela, and The Mafia Only
Kills in the Summer.  Each of these
films has a significant female character that has fallen into the stereotypical
role of a women.  I am arguing that women
in Italian mafia films are stereotypically depicted as submissive, weak, and
naïve.                                                                                                                                                          The
first film that I am going to be analyzing is To Each His Own, a film released in 1967 and directed by Elio
Petri.  This film is begins with death
threats in anonymous letters to the local pharmacist Arturo Manno.  Manno is known for sleeping around with
women, so it was suspected that the letters were coming from a jealous
husband.  The letters were not initially
taken seriously by any of Manno’s friends until he, along with his friend Dr.
Antonio Roscio, were killed during a hunting trip.  Investigators are suspicious of a father and
two brothers of a sixteen year old girl who was having an affair with
Manno.  It wasn’t until Professor
Laurana, a friend of Roscio, analyzed the letters that he did not believe the
father and two sons could have killed the two men due to their illiteracy.  Laurana begins his own investigation,
motivated by his secret love for the dead doctor’s wife, Luisa.  With interferences and threats from Luisa’s
cousin Rosello, Laurana continues his investigation with the help of
Luisa.  Laurana eventually learns that
Louisa does not reciprocate his feelings for her, and that she has been fooling
him the entire time, by working with Rosello to find the dead doctors
journal.  Laurana is untimely murdered
and his body disappears.                                                                                                                           The
second film that I am going to analyze is Angela.  Angela
is a film set in the 1980s.  It was
released in 2002 and was directed by Roberta Torre.  The main character, Angela, is married to a
mob boss named Saro.  The family runs a
shoe shop which acts as a front for a drug operation.  Angela takes the orders from the “customers”
and smuggles the drugs inside of the shoes and delivers them.  Angela is ultimately her husband’s drug mule
where she is allowed very little impute in how the operation is run despite her
position.  It wasn’t until a handsome man
named Masino arrives to help Saro with his drug operation that Angela starts to
stray from her husband.  Angela and
Masino take part in a torrid love affair, thus putting their lives in
danger.  The police eventually catch on
to Saro’s drug operation and begin to question Angela.  She doesn’t give anything away, but the local
law enforcement find Saro guilty and throw him in jail.  It is during the law enforcements
investigation that they let Saro know about his wife’s affair with his business
partner Masino.  Saro threatens Angela by
taking away everything that she loves, including Masino.  Masino tells Angela to meet him at a peer on
a particular date every year.  Angela
complies, but Masino never shows forcing the audience to believe that Saro had
him murdered for his betrayal.                                                                                                         The third and final
movie that I am going to analyze is The
Mafia Only Kills in the Summer.  The
film begins in the late 1960s in Palermo where the main character Arturo is
conceived.  On the night of his
conception, a brutal mafia massacre takes place.  This is foreshadowing Arturo’s lifelong
intersection with prominent anti-mafia figures who all end up murdered by the
mafia.  Through the first half of the
film, the audience views the story through the eyes of a child.  Arturo’s upbringing occurs during a time when
Palermo ignored the existence of the mafia. 
Arturo has a crush on a classmate named Flora, but has to compete with
another classmate for her affection. Arturo then sees an interview with Prime
Minister Giulio Andreotti talking about his declaration of love to his now wife
in a cemetery, and Arturo believes that Andreotti somehow truly understands him.  Arturo becomes somewhat obsessed with
Andreotti and puts a poster of him above his bed.  It is not until later in the film after a car
bombing, that Arturo realizes the truth about Andreotti’s mafia ties, thus losing
admiration for him.                                                                                                                                                         The
second half of the film shows Arturo in his 20s writing for a newspaper.  Arturo has great distain for the mafia and
after running into Flora after many years, tries to convince her of her
father’s ties to the mafia.  She
eventually understands her father’s criminal acts through her childhood.  The end of the film Arturo and Flora are
married with a son.  Arturo walks around
Palermo with Flora and their son, showing him the memorials of fallen
anti-mafia figures to keep their memory alive.                                                                                                                                               Each
one of these film has a key female character that represents women in a
negative light.  In the film, To Each His Own, Luisa was incredibly
over sexualized.  There were scenes in
the film where Laurana would ogle Luisa, which was presented by the camera
panning down to her legs while she was kneeling down.  The film made it seem as if the only reason
Laurana was helping to find out who murdered his friend was because of his
attraction to Luisa, which diminishes her character by making her seem as if
she is an object.  By the final few
scenes in the film, the audience discovers that Luisa has been working with her
cousin/lover to get close to Laurana to find the missing letters.  Throughout the film, if becomes evident that
Luisa has been following orders from Rosello. 
She became a tool in Rosello’s scheme to distract and/or get close to
Laurana so he could find the missing letters to the doctor.  This film portrays Luisa as a submissive
woman to Rosello.  She did what she was
told to do and she dressed up and flirted with Laurana to get something out of
it.  Ultimately, the film depicted her as
an object.                         To Each His Own is not the only film
that represents women in a negative way. 
The film Angela also creates
the image of a submissive and weak women who does what her “man” tells her to
do, which is all too common of female characters in Italian cinema,
particularity mafia films.  Angela was directed by Roberta Torre,
who is a well-known female director in Italy. 
Angela is one of the few mafia
films that was told from a female perspective. 
On the outside, Angela seems like a relatively strong character.  She basically is running the drug scheme that
her husband has created by taking the orders, preparing the “packages”, and
delivering them all around town.  Not
only does she appear to be a powerful and independent woman, Angela feels just
that.  She feels as if she has an
important position and is valuable to her husband.  But, through further examination, it becomes
clear that Angela is just a prop.                                                             The
director, Roberta Torre, attempted to highlight the masculine tone that most
mafia films have in order to bring into question the ideas about masculinity
(O’Rawe 1).  There were a few moments
throughout the film that brought the idea of women being weaker.  In one scene, Angela’s husband Saro and his
men discuss how women shouldn’t be included in the decision making process
regarding mafia business.  Saro also made
it clear on a few occasions that Angela should focus on being a wife and a
mother to their daughter, who Angela doesn’t have much of a relationship with.  Although Torre used these tactics of
highlighting toxic masculinity and show how it affects the women, she fell
flat.                                                                             The
film made use of a particular color pallet that would exemplify how Angela was
feeling.  Through most of the film we see
Angela in red.  Red illustrates her inner
sexuality and femininity.  This depicts
how Angela feels when she is working for her husband running the business, and
during her rendezvous with Masino.  By
the end of the film, the audience sees Angela wearing all white.  This occurs after the drug operation is
discovered, her husband is in jail, and Masino has disappeared.  Although Torre attempted to confront the
damage that masculinity does on women, the final scenes in the film made it
appear as if the only way Angela could feel feminine, sexy, and powerful was
when a man was taking care of her.  Torre
expressed many stereotypes of women in the film, but never counteracted them by
showing Angela as being strong.  She only
presented Angela as broken by the end of the film.                                    In the film The Mafia Only Kills in the Summer, Flora is seen at two points in
her life, once as a young girl and once as an adult woman.  It is difficult to say that Flora was
stereotyped as a child into being a submissive or weak woman, because she was
only a child.  But, there was one
stereotype used which was Flora’s obliviousness to the whole mafia situation
even as an adult.  As young children
Arturo was aware of the mafia issue, whereas Flora was not.  Creating an image that she is just an
ignorant female, whereas the boy is reasonably intelligent.  It wasn’t until the end of the film where the
negative images of women come into play. 
Arturo visits Flora to help her write a speech for her boss, who is a
politician.  At this point the film is
still depicting Flora as unaware of the extent of the damage the mafia has
caused to Palermo.  Arturo, the man, has
to inform her that her “boss” is involved with the mafia.  The final scene of the film shows Flora and
Arturo married with a son.  Arturo
carries his son around the city of Palermo to all of the memorials of dead
anti-mafia officials.  During this entire
scene, Flora is mute.  She doesn’t speak
or give any impute.  Leaving the lasting
image of a submissive wife and mother, similar to what Saro, Angela’s husband,
wanted her to be.                                                                                          Each
one of these films has portrayed women in a negative way.  For Luisa, she was shown as an oversexualized
prop for the men in her life who used her body to get what she wanted.  Angela was essentially an errand girl who
only had what was given to her by her husband which was swiftly taken away from
her once he disapproved of her actions. 
Flora was an oblivious woman who was submissive and supportive towards
her husband.  Each of these woman were
categorized into a stereotype given to women. 
Despite the fact that some of these films were directed by women, they
were not successful in eradicating these stereotypes by the end of the films.              



Works Cited Staff. “Origins of the Mafia.”,
A Television Networks, 2009,


O’Rawe, Catherine. “Roberta Torre’s Angela: the Mafia and the
‘Woman’s Film’.”

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