An evocation on guilt, obligation, and retribution, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor is a mafia story which feels familiar yet unique, taking a complex narrative which could have easily felt uneven or overwrought and making it taut, immersive and emotionally resonant. Constructing its formalist and structural designs holistically around its principle characterization of Tommaso Buscetta, the first mafia informant in Sicily, The Traitor manages to be an incisive film when it comes to ego, detailing how fragility isn't diametrically opposed to ego but congruent. Notions of duty, obligation, and honor, conflict and contrast with his subjective morality, as the main protagonist of this story struggles with ethical imperatives related to retribution. Emotionally resonant due to the introspective lens which the film places on this complex character, The Traitor never strays into melodrama, recognizing how his personal flaws are what make him not only interesting but compelling, his pride being a barrier to emotional availability but also an instructive force which ultimately drives him to finish what he started as an informant. Subtextually, the film provides a nuanced examination of institutional power, uninterested in crude or binary moral claims associated with public -the state- or private- the mafia in the context of this story. The Traitor instead grasps with the social, political, and social entanglements of any institution of a specific historical magnitude - in this case the Mafia being embedded into Italy itself - exhibiting the corrosive nature intrinsic to authority and how the tentacles of power, authority and ultimately control have no such allegiances, being only loyal to itself in the quest for more. Aesthetically speaking, Bellocchio and company employ a meticulous and rhythmic visual schematic; Wide compositions juxtaposed with heavy use of empty space invoke the fulcrum of this character's cognitive experience, expressing through visuals the emotive nature of a once deeply connected and powerful man now largely on his own, standing up against one of the most powerful institutions in the world, the 1980s Silician mafia. A mafia story that isn't really about the mob, The Traitor is an exquisite piece of epic scale filmmaking which manages to touch on a lot of interesting concepts related to institutional power, authority, and perhaps most incisively, how fragility isn't in conflict with but is a part of ego.
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