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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Inspector Montalbano

In case you may be wondering whether I ever watch anything else on television other than films and DVDs, I do. I get 'hooked' on some serials, while others that I try out of curiosity leave me wondering what all the fuss is about.  At the moment, apart from the above, I am watching "Boardwalk Empire" (Steve Buscemi casts some rather repugnant charm), "Homeland" (very well-acted but less complex or involving than its Israeli source "Prisoners of War"), "True Blood" (getting sillier each season), "Romanzo Criminale" (a gritty spin-off from the Italian gangster film), and "Grimm" (greatly inventive and uncelebrated).  I also try to watch any programme about film in general and any biographies of actors, directors, etc.  I am also fond of a late afternoon quiz programme "Pointless", which I watch if I am not involved with other things. So that doesn't leave much time for anything else.

Writing about the above Italian series based on the novels of Andrea Camilleri, is not a complete departure on my part from writing about movies, since each episode -- although the main characters are unvaried -- is complete in itself.  There is none of that 'previously...' at the start and since they run between 100 and 110 minutes (without any ads thankfully), they can really be treated as films, especially since they are well-written and well-photographed, unlike too many made for television flicks.  Set in the Ragusa region of Sicily (which looks so appealing that one yearns to visit and discover its byways), Commissario Salvo Montalbano is in charge of the local police station, but forced to work under the thumb of governmental bureaucrats and the so-called Anti-Mafia Squad.  Played by Luca Zingaretti, he is a charismatic presence, apparently swooned over by many female viewers, despite his bow legs, short and stocky build, and shaved pate. He has a long-standing girlfriend Livia, not seen since the last series, who lives in Turin, and is generally faithful, living in his seaside villa and tended by his faithful daily housekeeper. When not solving mysteries, his main pastimes are long swims each morning in the surrounding sea and relishing hearty gourmet meals. What's not to like?

His main sidekicks are the reliable Fazio, played by Peppino Mazzotta, the irascible 'Mimi, played by Cesare Bocci, who is married with a son but who remains a serial womanizer, and the dippy agent Catarella, played by Angelo Rosso. Catarella is a wonderful comic creation who is overly in awe of Salvo, but who is very clumsy and somewhat dim, always mixing up words and people's names. Despite this he turns out to be something of a computer whiz and shows unexpected acting talent as Judas in the local drama (grammar) club's passion play. Montalbano himself is mentally sharp and expert at managing his overlords and underlings, to say nothing of the succession of tasty female characters who appear as victims and villains. He is not above duplitious subterfuge when questioning subjects, like pretending to be an ardent monarchist to obtain information from a hostile old biddy. He can be irascible, surprising, and brilliant all at the same time, while remaining a macho but very likeable man. The two-sided war of words between him and the local coroner (while they are actually quite fond of each other) is beautifully presented. Among the recurrent female characters is a six-foot Scandinavian beauty, married to an older local man, who finds various outlets for her sexual urges, but remains on the highest of platonic plains with her good friend Salvo.

Nearly all of the films (and there have been some twenty or so) have been intricate puzzles eventually resolved by the team. This Saturday marks the end of the series with its version of the author's most recent work. Actually the last four novels have been dealt with out of sequence, but that is by the by with no damage done. There are rumours that there may be a few more episodes to come in due course and I certainly hope so. In the meantime I will certainly miss the Inspector and his well-fleshed out team. 
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