This is the true story of Peppino Impastato, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana and starring Luigi Lo Cascio in his first major film role in 2000 after ten years in theatre productions. Probably chosen for his physical resemblance to Peppino and his youth as well as the fact that he’s a Sicilian from Palermo, Lo Cascio plays the lead role very well, conveying the foolhardy, naive and ultimately tragic idealism of Peppino. He won the Italian cinema best actor award for his performance and the film was nominated for various other international awards, winning several of them.
Peppino’s adult life started and ended in the 1970s and the film shows just how appallingly feudal life was in that decade with the mafia controlling everything, including Peppino’s family and the local Carabinieri. Nothing happened in Cinisi without their approval and this was not some remote backwater in the hinterland like Corleone but rather a small seaside town just a few miles west of Palermo. The film opens with scenes from Peppino’s childhood in the 1950s to set the stage as it were, a pastiche of classic vignettes of genial mafia family life that could be from any old Hollywood movie. It then moves to the late 1960s and early 1970s when the worldwide rebelliousness of youth in those years takes on a different dimension for Peppino and his friends in Sicily.
Peppino places his father in an impossible situation but either doesn’t care or doesn’t properly understand the consequences of his actions. He is tolerated and indulged for a while but his daily sarcastic and insulting broadcasts from Radio Aut, his newly established radio station, prove highly embarrassing for the mafia bosses and this was probably Peppino’s greatest sin, because he was incapable of being any real threat to their power.
The film ends with Peppino’s death in 1978, but despite the fact that he was subsequently elected to local office posthumously on an anti-mafia platform and despite all the crowds marching past his family home at the end in solidarity, nothing was to change in Sicily for another 14 years until the assassinations of Falcone and Borsellino and the watershed year of 1992 in Italian politics.
The title of the film ‘i cento passi’ (the hundred steps) refers to the short distance between Peppino’s home and that of Tano Badalamenti, the mafia boss who eventually ordered his execution. Naturally Peppino’s death was ruled to be a suicide at the time by the corrupt local Carabinieri but 20 years later the verdict was finally corrected and Badalamenti was convicted of Peppino’s murder, but by that time he was already serving a life sentence in the US for his role in the ‘pizza connection’ drug trafficking case.
Before I had ever heard of Peppino Impastato or this film I had the opportunity to try some of the excellent ‘Centopassi’ wines produced in the hills between Palermo and Corleone. There have been various Italian laws passed over the last 25 years that allow seizure of mafia land after convictions and this wine, named in honor of Peppino, is made from vines on acreage confiscated from the mafia. Land has always represented power in Sicily and taking the mafia’s land is one of the better crime fighting initiatives to come out of the Italian State. The Centopassi vineyards are managed by two of Sicily’s largest wine co-operatives along with some agriturismo bed & breakfasts, also on confiscated land.