Inspector Montalbano when it was shown on BBC4 was unbelievably captivating to me. From the amazingly discordant title music over an aerial view of a Mediterranean town with bright white concrete buildings tightly packed together, to the man himself (Salvatore Montalbano, the detective) swimming in the sea in the opening sequence – there was an old world quality to this drama that just did not feel contrived. Its simplicity, rustic setting and no-nonsense people was not fashionable but very real. Sicily of course is the land of the Mafia and is imprinted in everyone’s minds through the Godfather films. However, Inspector Montalbano rises above all the easy references that can be made.
For most of it, I could relate to it wholly – it was resonant of a type of life I once knew, in my childhood, growing up in India. The people are gritty and firmly rooted in their land – many in deprived circumstances. The casual corruption and violence, the ingratiating behaviour of officials, the strong hierarchy and the moral oppressiveness of Sicilian society can also be comparable to a traditional Indian society and occasionally to 70s Hindi films!
Of course the magical quality of the light in Sicily is captured so well – the island is a seductive presence throughout. The filming is cinematic – like the classic movies of the 70s – slow, graceful and breath-taking. To the slick British audience with a voracious appetite for Scandinavian crime with grey, bleak landscapes and detectives with dysfunctional personalities, this was maybe a little unsophisticated but not to us at home who became fans of the show.
Over three series – we saw the idealistic inspector with mesmeric appeal (with a smile that could transform an otherwise stern face) slowly mature into a more jaded older man. We understood him best through his relationships with his colleagues and also through the way he handled his personal life. The realistic portrayal of his long engagement with the lovely Livia (who lives away in Genoa) never reaches the happily-ever-after ending and was one of the running themes of the story. Spanning a period of perhaps 15 years or maybe more, we see the Inspector interact with his faithful assistants, Fazio and Mimi who are great supporting characters. The witty, pungent exchanges he has with Pasquano, the pathologist – the older cantankerous man are classic. Salvo, of course also has a long list of swooning women (all of whom could be defined as ‘stunning Italian beauties’) which were the only times when it felt clichéd and slightly incredible.
The original books were written by Andrea Camilleri who wrote them in his 70s and translated versions are available. The man who lives and breathes Salvo Montalbano (Luca Zingaretti) speaks eloquently about the character in the video above. It has so many deeply insightful and profound observations that I thought I could write a whole post on it and perhaps tempt you to seek out the books or DVDs if you haven’t had the good fortune of experiencing this rich treat.