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The Godfather is 52 years old: The film that marked the history of cinema

On March 15, 1972, The Godfather made its debut. Our homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.

Myth, history and a war: analysis of a timeless masterpiece, from the puppeteer’s threads in the logo, to the red carnation on Don Vito Corleone’s dress, to the sinister oranges and the impeccable soundtrack …

The Godfather is a masterpiece of “eternal beauty” that fits gracefully into the history of cinema, leaving iconic sequences on the Olympus of the big screen. Fifty years have passed since the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s unforgettable film, but it continues to fascinate audiences for generations with its grace and immortality.

Powers and puppeteers

Even 52 years later, Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” is undoubtedly the seventh milestone of art that best describes the Italian-American mafia, politics, relations between the mafia and the police, love, Italian folklore, the bleak Shakespearean tragedy and brutality. The symbol of the developing era of New Hollywood… A legend of directing… One of the greatest manifestations of the seventh art… Now sit down, let’s go to America and Sicily over the years ‘40 and ’50…

There were five gangster families in New York in the 1940s and 1950s, when the mafia was gaining strength in the United States. These were puppeteers who pulled the threads of power. Everything, from the institutions to the huge capital, was in the hands of mute leaders with ambiguous hegemony. Our story begins with the period in the power of Vito Corleone, one of these families. Things get complicated when the Corleones, one of the prominent families of New York’s criminal underworld, don’t want to enter the newly burgeoning drug market. And then comes the period of the struggle against the Sollozzo-Tattaglia-Barzini alliance, which wants to attract the Corleone family into drug trafficking. The sequel focuses on the reign of Vito’s youngest son Michael, who was left on the sidelines but found himself heading the family business when his father was shot. However, Michael was never involved in family affairs. He had returned from World War II as a hero. Vito Coleone dreamed of his youngest son becoming a senator or president, not a puppeteer. But the trilogy “The Godfather” was built on Michael’s change and the patriotic idealist Michael had to transform into a ruthless and lonely mafia boss …

The effort to have its roots in the American dream

Immigration and family are among the main themes of the film. Father Vito Corleone’s trip from Sicily to the United States in 1901 also told the struggle of an Italian family to resist. Vito, the representative of the first generation, was also protective of his Italian friends, especially his family and members of the mafia he worked with. His son, Michael, was the second generation that left tradition behind, did not care about his ethnicity and was close to capitalist America. Therefore, he would find it increasingly difficult to protect the family he was trying to make room for in the “American Dream.”

The values ​​of the Italian family

The Corleone family is a naturalized American family that treasures purely Italian characteristics: the importance of the concept of family and its compactness, speeches entirely in Sicilian dialect and rich and abundant meals prepared according to ancient traditional recipes. Family, according to the Corleones, is a concept that goes far beyond blood ties: to the beloved children Michael who dreams of becoming a driving force, Fredo, weak and insecure, Sonny, impulsive and hotheaded, Connie, emotional but determined, the figure of Tom Hagen is added. Adopted son of Don Vito Corleone and Advisor to the latter, Tom is professional, very fond of the Corleone family and able to maintain clarity and professionalism even in situations that put him under pressure.

“I believe in America, but I want justice from you”

 “I believe in America. America made my fortune”. The film opens with these words, spoken by an Italian immigrant who emerges from the shadows, in search of the justice that US law cannot give him. And immediately after, it shows how faith in America can be insufficient. Amerigo Bonasera who on Connie Corleone’s wedding day turns to her father Don Vito, demanding a retaliation against those who raped and disfigured her daughter. Meanwhile, violence is being applied to journalists photographing politicians coming to the wedding. An opening scene which, as often happens with masterpieces, is a real declaration of intent, capable of providing the viewer with the coordinates of everything they will see later.

Combination of good and bad

The story of Bonasera is the same as that of the Corleone family, and more generally of all Italian-American organized crime: The Godfather is a true study of evil. During the wedding ceremony, which takes place cheerfully at large tables with the accompaniment of Italian music, many people involved in the organization are ready to make irrefutable offers or execute in cold blood anyone who violates the strict rules. A world that Coppola represents with humanity that literally stuns us: so we find ourselves lining up for a criminal who is immersed in captivating games with his nephew or those he trusts. We feel close to Clemenza, who reserves the same care for a Cannoli package as he does for a murder.

In fact, starting from the beginning of the story of The Godfather, we witness inner humanity. It begins with finding Don Vito Corleone in peaceful silence, wrapped in a magical veil of light. A natural contrast is shown as if to build a legend without myths that thrive on mafia ethics, true friendship, blind revenge and cat caresses. Thus, the Godfather’s narrative unfolds in its measured and gentle rhythm, stitching iconic and unforgettable images into it.

“Who is purest Kay?”

And then there is a dialogue between Michael and Kay. In Sicily, Michael’s wife, Apollonia, with whom he found love, is bombed. And after this incident, Michael, who has lost his sensibility, has found his old love Kay again. We follow the following dialogue between the two: Kay: “I thought you wouldn’t be like your father.” Michael replies: “My father is no different from other powerful people. Someone who has the responsibility to others. Like a senator or a president ”. Kay said, “Don’t you see how naive you are with what you’re saying?” “Why?” he asks. “Senators and presidents are not assassinated,” Kay replies. Michael looks Kay in the face: “Which of us is naive, Kay?”

And in Father II, we watch another dialogue between Michael and an American senator. The politician is blatantly and rudely soliciting a bribe from Michael, for whom he has just received a large charity check for his state and lauded in front of the press. When Michael refuses the offer, the senator says, “I detest you crooks and hypocrites.” Michel looks into the eyes of the politician: “Senator, we are all part of this hypocrisy,” he says. This sentence sums up the realism of the current system.

The dialogues that summarize Coppola’s vision of a society at the end of the line, in which the only possibility of justice for the oppressed lies paradoxically in that organized crime that justice should counter with all its might. Yet another moral dilemma that poses this masterpiece more topical than ever, which after 50 years continues to be a much more realistic warning than we are willing to admit.

The corrupt political organization, the Las Vegas establishment, the spread of drug trafficking, but also the rising economy, and the rise of the welfare state are the developments that describe this period. Michael Corleone is an idealist who dropped out of law school to join World War II and his father dreams of becoming a senator or president in the future. He is the apple of the eye of the family and his son, who is kept away from “dirty work”. But circumstances discourage him from “believing in America”. He will create the America he believes in with the methods he knows. These years are also a time when generation 68, whose ideals were extinct, could not shake off the effects of the Vietnam War. It was in such an environment that the baby boom and then American cooperative relations were born…

Magnificent choir

One of cinema’s greatest critical and commercial hits of all time, The Godfather showcases the talents of actors such as Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton. The reasons for the success of this film are many: the exceptional quality of the cast, the photographs by Gordon Willis, the music by Nino Rota, and the directorial talent and determination of Coppola. And it mixes a variety of different genres: gangster story, drama, family epic, and tragedy, with elements of historical drama, action and romantic films.

Wrapped in a sombre photo of Gordon Willis, Marlon Brando’s performance is dazzling. Cheeks full of cotton to give Vito Corleone his distinctive bulldog look and age at the same time, oil on his head to age his hair and a low, muffled voice used to characterize the character… all contributing to Brando’s iconicity.

Michael Corleone reveals himself to be the kinetic character par excellence within the Godfather universe. Cunning, intelligent, concrete; a continuous and incessant evolution overwhelms his life and that of those around him. Michael is the protagonist of one of the most famous sequences of the film, strongly explanatory of the dichotomous and dual character that is at the basis of the film: the scene of the baptism of his grandson in which Michael participates as the Godfather is full of visual oxymorons and conceptual, evident through the use of alternate editing. Bloodshed is done while the officiant recites the prayer. The sound of an organ accompanies the sacredness of the ceremony and the excited and bloody operation at the hands of the Corleone family. The Godfather is a feature film that often uses allegories: oranges, a typical Sicilian fruit with a blood-red juice, often appear to presage a painful event or murder.

The contribution of the large group of secondary characters within a magnificent choral cast is also fundamental. Once again, Coppola demonstrates all his mastery and his cinematic flair by choosing the perfect faces for characters constantly poised between gunfights and the most disarming banality. In the midst of an impressive multitude of extraordinary character actors, literally spurting underworld from every pore, stand out the interpretations of two eternally underrated actors such as John Cazale and Robert Duvall, respectively in the roles of fearful brother Fredo and the reflective and analytical adviser of the Corleone, Tom Hagen. Performances that fit perfectly into the picture of The Godfather’s variegated and complex humanity, and that lay the foundations for the development of the characters in the next The Godfather – Part II, undoubtedly one of the best sequels in the entire history of cinema.

And, above all, the film was also hitting those who did not like violence and lawlessness in their lives. Because it was very sincere and genuine. Because it was still transferring the current system correctly. Because not only did the guns go off, but the transformation of America and immigrants was also carried over into the film. Because for them not only money and power but also traditions and family were important and all these emotions were successfully conveyed to the public.

Although he cannot count on the unconditional trust of the production, in The Godfather Francis Ford Coppola continually takes considerable directorial risks, always coming out as the winner. The extended times followed by sudden bursts of violence, the extraordinary music imbued with Italianness by Nino Rota, dominated by a theme as suggestive as it is disturbing, the Sicilian parenthesis and the subsequent temporal ellipsis, which give us a Michael already dropped into the role of the boss, and the alternate editing on the baptism of the nephew of the new godfather, during which all the rival heads of the family are murdered, are bold choices and in contrast with the cinema of the time, which could have led to a bitter failure and which instead prove to be precious pieces of an almost perfect narrative mosaic.

Stories are written with light, music and allegories

In The Godfather, in addition to America, also Sicily, painted rural and picturesque, actively takes part in the film, with its torrid and dry landscapes in a moment of return to origins. The unmistakable and bittersweet soundtrack by Nino Rota expertly marks the timing of Coppola’s masterpiece. The flawless and bittersweet music of Nino Rota masterfully completes Coppola’s masterpiece. In the soundtracks signed by Ray Evans, Johnny Farrow, Jay Livingston, Nino Rota, Marty Symes and Carmine Coppola, the most famous introductory music belongs to Rota. This memorable melody was an arrangement of a Sicilian folk song. The contrast between light and dark refers to the dual dimension of the film: an entirely diegetic play of light works on the faces of the protagonists, highlighting significant characteristics. The father is a feature film that often resorts to allegories: a typical Sicilian fruit with blood-red orange juice often appears to announce a painful event or murder. The puppeteer in the article The Godfather on the poster, the cat Baba holds in his arms and the red carnation on the dress are all the highlights of the film’s messages.

Filmed in 1974, “Baba II” told two stories in parallel. With Michael becoming the head of the family, the process of transforming Father Vito (Marlon Brando) into a mob boss was on-screen with flashbacks. Nine-year-old Vito, who took refuge in America from the pressures of the mafia in Sicily in 1901, started his life from scratch in the Italian neighbourhood of New York. Vito, who earned respect when he killed a mafia boss in his youth, gradually transformed into Don Vito. His son, Michael (Al Pacino), who took over the post, would have been ambitious and ruthless, unlike his father, as he tried to protect his family.

Many years later, Coppola sat down at a desk with Mario Puzo to form “Father III”. As Reagan and Thatcher’s liberal winds blew across the world in the third film, Michael was now seeking partnerships with multinational companies. This would wipe out Corleone’s name. But he was over 60 and needed an heir. That heir was his nephew, Vincenzo “Vincent” Mancini. But things would turn out differently than Michael had anticipated, and the famous Mafia boss would have to question his past. Coppola wanted to title the third film, released 16 years later in 1990, “The Death of Michael Corleone,” but Paramount wouldn’t allow it.

 After “Father III,” Mario Puzo wanted the fourth film to be shot with the encouragement of Andy Garcia, who starred in the last film. He also wrote half of the script. In this episode, the childhood of Vito’s children would be told. When Paramount turned down the offer, the project was shelved after Puzo’s death in 1999.

Best film of all time

The series “The Father”, which is among the most memorable trilogies in the history of cinema, has obviously received numerous awards. The Godfather has received dozens of awards from the Golden Globe, to the David di Donatello from the BAFTAs. But above all, it has never left its place in the ranking of the “100 best films of all time”.

After 52 years, under the director’s supervision, the film returned to cinemas around the world in early March, after a restoration and overhaul of each frame in the laboratory that cost nearly 5,000 hours.

The Godfather is a masterpiece of “eternal beauty” that fits gracefully into the history of cinema, leaving iconic sequences on the Olympus of the big screen. Fifty years have passed since the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s unforgettable film, but it continues to fascinate audiences for generations with its grace and immortality…

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