Il traditore ('The Traitor'), directed by veteran filmmaker Marco Bellocchio, was selected on Tuesday by Italy's national cinema association as its entry for Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards.
It stars Pierfrancesco Favino as Tommaso Buscetta, the first Sicilian mafia boss to turn pentito ('informant') on his former associates.
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The Palermo native climbed the ranks of the Cosa Nostra as a smuggler, first of cigarettes and then of drugs. But in the 1980s, disillusioned after years as a fugitive, multiple arrests, a prison sentence, and the deaths of several of his friends and family members – including two of his sons, whose bodies were never found – Buscetta revealed crucial details of the inner workings of the organization to crusading anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone.
His testimony would help Falcone and fellow prosecutor Paolo Borsellino convict more than 300 mafiosi at the infamous Maxi Trial, Italy's biggest and most successful anti-mafia prosecution in history.
Watch the trailer for The Traitor here:
Falcone and Borsellino were assassinated for their efforts in 1992, but Buscetta continued collaborating with the authorities, revealing links between organized crime and politics as well as the identity of brutal mafia boss Salvatore “Totò” Riina.
He also testified at the so-called Pizza Connection Trial in the US, explaining how the Sicilian mafia would traffic drugs abroad and launder the profits via small businesses, many of them pizza parlours.
His cooperation on the case allowed him to move to the US under witness protection, where he remained until his death from cancer in 2000 at the age of 71.
The Traitor covers the entire period from Buscetta's change of heart in the 1980s throughout his turns as star witness and into his later years.
“I tried to show a character who in my opinion isn't a hero but is a brave man,” director Bellocchio said. “He's a traitor, yes, but also a conservative – he's not aiming to change the world, rather to defend his past.”
The two-hour-plus biopic picked up seven prizes at the Nastri d'Argento film awards, the 'Italian Oscars', including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, and has made more than €4.7 million at the box office since its release in Italy in May.
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It comes out in the US in November. The Academy will decide on its shortlist of five contenders for the foreign film Oscar on January 13th, ahead of the ceremony on February 9th.
The last time an Italian film won the Oscar was in 2013, for Paolo Sorrentino's La grande bellezza ('The Great Beauty').