A Mafia leader squeals and has to go under a Witness Protection Program with his family in a small village in Normandy, France – but old habits surface hard and fast!
Last Updated: 01.38 PM, Jan 27, 2022
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This is a family like no other. Of course, the man is a mafioso, but one who's squealed on his compatriots, and so is now Fed protected, and on the run. And the family – wife, the boy, and the girl? Those lovely, wholesome, normal people? Well, don’t get fooled – they look well-stitched – but are also forever on the edge of being unhinged!
Malavita (called The Family in some countries) is a riot. It’s Besson in Scorcese territory (Martin produces!) and is a hilarious homage, satire, send-off, and welcome, to all the swarthy men in shiny tight suits and a gun poking from under their arms.
Fred Blake (real name - Giovanni Manzoni, Robert De Niro) and his family are on the run. After agreeing to confess to his crimes and revealing the misdeeds of his gang and the leaders, he goes into witness protection, in a small town in Normandy, France. All he has to do is to merge with the local scenery.
Easy, right? Wrong!!
The mafioso code of instant retribution and to immediately right the perceived wrong, is in the DNA of the family. And they go about their business with righteous determination.
The wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer in a deliciously nasty no-nonsense avatar) blows up a superstore when slighted for being an American after she asks for peanut butter (“it’s in the shelf after the dog food”), the daughter Belle (Dianna Agron, from Glee, a beautiful wholesome all-American girl with sinews of steel and a heart made of butter) beats the s...., errr, stocking out of a bunch of boys who treat her as an object – leaving them with a homily on how their future depended on women and why they should respect them.
And the boy Warren (John D’Leo, is a human calculating machine of wheeling and dealing) does well in studies but is slammed with 22 charges in his school including assault, corruption, bullying, threatening, etc. He, of course, tells his school board that he wants a lawyer to fight his case – before making plans to leave town! And Frank himself, settling into the sedentary life of a small town, takes up to being a writer – to tell the tale of his misdeeds (“Dying for these words is always nobler than the death I’m destined for!”)
And they are supervised by an exhausted FBI agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), who is tired of shifting the family again and again because their proclivities run amok every town where they seek safe custody.
But the family does seem to be settling down in their own way. Belle falls in love with a dork, Warren has a gang of customers and accomplices, Maggie even has a conversation with God asking his help to look after the family as she can’t do it all alone – until she innocently confesses to the priest. And Frank beats up the plumber for charging exorbitantly for a plumbing job and bangs on his typewriter, his poignant tale of killings and extortion. Things are “normal”.
But hark! Destiny plays its game, slyly, and they are outed in ways too hilarious to tell. And a full army of black shiny suited hoods land in their tiny village in Normandy, to avenge the basic Mafia code.
Luckily the code of the family (“Asking politely with a gun is better than asking just politely”- Al Capone.) lingers in the blood and proves to be a fine way to fight for survival.
The film seamlessly brings in humour to leaven its violent underpinnings. Whilst writing his book, Fred enumerates 10 reasons why he's a good guy (Point # 10 “I’m always upfront” – as he shoots a man for not paying up!).
At another point, the children admiringly talk about the number of things their dad can express with just one word – ‘f*ck’. The acting is superlative, with the chemistry and punches landing with consummate ease.
Both Besson and Scorcese take pot-shots at French uber-culture and American uber-obsessions, and you can almost hear their guffaws as the film spools out. Amidst the calm of a French village and the mayhem of an American shootout, this is a warm-hearted, hot-blooded film full of fun, gore and, well, family values!
Malavita is the name of the family dog in the film, but in Italian, it loosely translates to “criminal life”!
Watch The Family on Disney+Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, and Zee5.
(Views expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of OTTplay)
(Written by Sunil Bhandari, a published poet and host of the podcast ‘Uncut Poetry’)