Some Notes on the Godfather trilogy

It would be considered a dishonor of sorts to simply write the Godfather trilogy off as a set of films to randomly review. Having been honored by several film institutions and critics alike as some of the best films ever made (save for the third one), writing about these films would require a certain level of additional interpretation (or at least that’s what I believe). This entry will involve certain aspects of the standard reviews I write up for the films I’ve seen throughout the summer, but will be different in all other aspects. You’ll see why in the succeeding paragraphs.

The Plot

The Godfather trilogy tells the multigenerational story of the Corleone crime family. It’s main protagonist, Michael Corleone, starts off in the first film as a doe-eyed collegiate, eager to have nothing to do with the ‘family business’. By the time the third movie comes about, Michael is a successful and accomplished man who has cut himself off from his former mafia ties in the hopes of becoming truly legitimate.

The Notes

Noir Descendant 

There are traces of film noir left over in the Godfather– from the crisp three-piece suits to the gritty dialogue to the guns, these movies are clear descendants of these fatalistic black and white movies from the 1940s. Even the depiction of the female characters as clueless housewives or sexpots is borrowed from this genre.

Anti-Feminist 

Speaking of feminist depiction, the trilogy is far from friendly to the opposite sex. There are only two mainstay females in the movie: Connie, Michael’s sister (Talia Shire) and Kay Adams (Diane Keaton). For the first two films they’re either portrayed as clueless and sometimes mentally unstable. There’s no indication of them playing an equal part in the family business dealings, and only their marriages and their children are considered important. It is only in the third film when Connie gains her footing– in the first film she’s an abused wife, in the second, a negligent mother. Kay Adams is a more stable character, yet one that seems to submit to Michael’s whims too quickly. She marries him in the first movie despite having not seen him for so long, and continues to stay loyal to him despite the things that have happened. Kay’s daughter Mary (Sofia Coppola in the third film), seems to do nothing more than be promiscuous towards her cousin. There isn’t much substance and personality in her character, and she’s horribly one dimensional.

Perhaps the lack of a modern female character can be explained by two things: time and genre. The film is set in a period before the emergence of strong female characters, and to include one would be severely unfaithful to the setting. Secondly, gangster films have never been female friendly– most are what some people like to call ‘sausage fests’.

Family Centered 

Despite it all, the Godfather trilogy teaches a number of positive lessons about the concept of family. Although their methods are somewhat severe, and decision making in some aspects of the movie are questionable, there is much emphasis made with regards to protecting one’s family and children.

Even if they are engaged in work that may keep them busy, there is still some effort by the men to involve themselves in family affairs: Vito attends his daughter Connie’s wedding in between business meetings and makes it in time for the memorable moments; Michael is present during his godson’s baptism and his son’s Communion celebration and travels to Sicily to see Anthony’s debut in an opera house. Their connections with their children are strained and few, yet the connection is there. Save for Sonny’s case, there is no instance of philandering or negligence on the part of the father figures in the film: Vito and later, Michael.

Michael himself emphasizes in the movie that he made certain decisions in the hopes of protecting his family from harm. I was initially quite put off by the fact that the women are kept unaware of the family’s business dealings, but looking back on it, perhaps this was a method to protect them if ever something wrong happened to the entire family.

As mentioned earlier, the methods and decisions made were to an extent, quite extreme, yet the silver lining is there. Beyond all those rash decisions (Carlo and Fredo is all I’ll say, I need not spoil it any further), there are some good points. One particular quote pretty much sums it all up: “A man who never spends time with his family can never be a real man.”

Dullest Actress Ever 

I’ve seen enough films to be brave enough to say that Sofia Coppola is the dullest actress… ever (I’m thankful she opted to be a filmmaker). Her appearance in the third installment is said to be one of the main factors that turned it into a bad movie. She may have had the look back then, but her acting just didn’t cut it. Her flirtation scenes with Andy Garcia were so cringe-worthy in the third film, not to mention her monotonous drawl of a voice, I really don’t understand how she got the part (some allege nepotism). All I can say is that this was one of the low points of the Godfather saga, one that could’ve been fixed had an actress who exuded sufficient personality, charm and brains been selected instead.

Some Thought, Please! 

One thing I admired about the film was the thought that went into certain decisions. Yes, they weren’t exactly the most legitimate, but they weren’t rash, either. Before seeing the Godfather trilogy I had gotten used to murder in movies being action-packed and noisy, not quiet and pre-planned. There’s a lot of planning that goes into death in the movie– from the murder of Don Ciccio in the second movie to the deaths that litter the last minutes of Godfather Part III, everything has been thought out. This habit of planning is something that Michael is shown to take quite seriously– he berates his protege/nephew Vincent Mancini (Andy Garcia) in the third film when Vincent plans a murder without his approval or knowledge. Rashness is shown to lead to negative consequences, as seen in the case of Michael’s older brother Sonny.

The lesson here is short and simple: think things through before you proceed; rash decisions can lead to rash consequences.

Food, Food, Food

One of my favorite scenes in the movie (now one of my favorite film scenes EVER) is the part in Godfather 1 where Peter Clemenza (one of Vito’s old friends), teaches Michael how to make a rich Italian spaghetti sauce. Another favorite scene is the part in the third film where Connie watches her godfather Don Altobello die from eating  poisoned cannoli.

There aren’t much specific scenes in the movie about food, but there are a number of eating scenes in the movie (perhaps Coppola’s way of showing how important food is in the Italian culture).

P.S. I’ll be trying to cook that Italian sauce recipe in a few weeks or so, watch for updates! 🙂

Final Words 

For someone who hasn’t seen a lot of gangster movies, the Godfather was a surprisingly good introduction to the genre. Although, I have to say that I was more psyched about the family dynamic aspect that I saw as compared to the whole mobster concept that the trilogy is about. One thing that really put me off was the role of women in gangster movies… they’re portrayed as equals in the familial sense, but restricted to the house and the home. It made me wonder why things were that way… and inspired me, in a way, to try to reverse things in my favor.

P.S. You’ll see what I mean… soon! 😉

 

 

 

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