Food: As you might have seen in my Instagram Story Highlights, this was the big, long-awaited GODFATHER DAY day. My friend and I went to the grocery and grabbed all the necessary ingredients to make a fitting Italian feast: several cheeses, a baguette, marinara sauce, various meats, onions, figs, prosciutto, and more. We also grabbed a bottle of Prosecco and peach fruit juice to make the Italian classic, the Bellini. First, we toasted the sliced baguette to make a bunch of crusts for the bruschetta. Then, created a charcuterie spread where we were able to pick and choose from a various assortment and make unique bruschetta pieces of our own. I started with a marscapone cheese, slice of prosciutto, and sliced figs. That was a flawless combination of sweet and salty. If you have never had marscapone cheese, do it now. Next, I went for the classic – mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil (my friend has been growing some!) and a dash of olive oil. Delicious! We also had brie cheese to pair with sliced apples and blueberries. To emulate the scene where the Corleone’s and their business prepare to “go to the mattresses” we made a spaghetti with marinara sauce and packed meatballs of ground beef cooked with onions. The whole meal was phenomenal and perfect for a night in with this classic film.
Film: I am very late to the game in viewing “The Godfather” (1972) by Francis Ford Coppola, and, of course, spent years hearing the disdain of my friends every time I let this information slip: “How have you not seen The Godfather?!” After making it all the way til recently, I actually ended up getting my hands on the book (written by Mario Puzo, who also contributed to the writing of the screenplay) before sitting to watch the movie, making it a really worthwhile endeavor.
The book, it is worth noting, is, of course, better. It is more enriched, as a book gets to be, with internal dialogue that really illuminates the context behind this Sicilian “mafia” family. Briefly touched upon in the film, the important facet of the Corleone family, run by Vito Corleone (an unrecognizable Marlon Brando), the Godfather himself, is that it is not rooted in senseless greed or power-hungry coke heads (as we often see in gangster films). The Corleone’s do not disobey the law frivolously. They are not rebels by nature. They are rebels out of necessity. As an Italian immigrant, coming to make his way in America, Vito Corleone discovered that American law does not protect Sicilians the way it protects their own. The government does not take care of them, police do not shield them, and banks do not help them. In order to survive, the Sicilian families made their own way by abiding by their own law.
Though Vito Corleone is our entry point into the film, the real story is about his son, Michael (Al Pacino). A war hero and pacifist, he has kept his family and their business at arms length. At one point he even says to his non-Sicilian girlfriend, Kay Adams (Diane Keaton), “this is my family, it isn’t me.” However, when his family is put at risk, and a potential war between the “five families” (all the other Sicilian mafia families in NYC) is simmering, Michael’s intuition leads him on an unexpected path. The true story of “The Godfather” is about him.
We meet Vito Corleone on the night of his daughters wedding, as he sits calmly in his office, listening to the requests of his friends and family. Amerigo Bonasera is a young Italian who had tried to live the American way – pay his taxes, put his finances in a bank, rely on the justice system. That is, until, his beautiful daughter is assaulted by two persuasive thugs and she is left hospitalized. In court, they are given an offensively light sentence, and freed that same day, to Bonasera’s devastation. Never having relied on the Godfather before, he comes to the Don (meaning ‘boss’ in mafioso) and begs for a favor. Corleone reprimands Bonasera. It is insulting for him to come to him after never having entrusted his life with him previously. Loyalty to the Godfather relies on a system of mutual ongoing favors. “Why go to the banks before me?” In modern American culture, this seems counter-intuitive. It is unbecoming to owe someone else anything, especially when it comes to finances. That is why this hierarchical system of favors is crucial to understanding how the Corleone family business works and this system of beliefs dependent upon absolute loyalty will continue to come into play throughout the story. When finishing with Bonasera and conceding to his request, the Don famously says, “Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughters wedding day.”
After the wedding, Don Corleone is approached by a Turkish mafioso, Virgil Sollozzo, who wants to make a deal involving the drug smuggling line of business, a world from which the Corleone’s have always kept their distance. When they opt to decline his offer, Sollozzo is disgruntled and begins to take measures to get his way.
This is a sprawling three hour film that covers the most crucial events of the book: Francis Ford Coppola masterfully finds the meat and bones of the story and brings it to screen with the exact right tone. Brilliantly casted and acutely directed, the story navigates through the passage of time, significant character development, and convoluted dynamics seemingly with ease. Each character is brought to life with specificity and precision, by a well-rounded cast including Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and John Cazale. There is a thoughtful balance between the fierce violence and affecting moments that weigh heavily on the value of family and friendship.
I loved it upon first viewing, but I know that this is the kind of film that I will enjoy more each time. Going in with high expectations, it can be overwhelming to take in every detail and moment fully, but I thought it was fantastic. I look forward to re-watching many times in the future, honing in on exceptional character moments and quoting the unforgettable lines of dialogue: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” What a masterpiece.