Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Italian crime series

Back in December we started watching a series on DVD called Inspector Montalbano. I think we've managed to get through all that available now, and have a different set on hand called The Young Montalbano, which we haven't started yet, because we're still finishing off Fog and Crimes. More about that in a minute.

The Montalbano series was always worth watching, with intriguing characters - there are some marvellous well-aged Italian faces amongst the casts - and stories that kept your interest up throughout, even though there were often little by-paths that only minimally connected to the overall picture. Montalbano is a man of considerable integrity, amongst other things, but there's one curious element to his character which bothers me. He and his longstanding girlfriend, Livia, who live in separate cities most of the time, have an on-off relationship that never seems to quite come together enough for them to actually marry each other (and we're talking about a couple who are in their early forties when the series started).  Occasionally Montalbano has wound up with another woman in an episode, (wound up in the sense of being intimately involved) and while you can kind of understand that his true love is far away, it does seem to undercut the integrity of the character as otherwise seen. This is emphasized more because on a number of occasions, when one of the less savory characters in the stories is boasting of his/her love life and various women/men, Montalbano and his offsider, Fazio, frequently exchange glances of disapproval, and Fazio (whose home life is never mentioned) in particular seems to have a high moral sexual code.

When we started watching Montalbano we had also been watching Judge John Deed, a British series in which a maverick Judge deals to the law as he sees fit, much to the irritation of the other Judges. This series isn't a patch on Montalbano, but again there's this curious contrast between integrity on one hand and lack of it on another. Deed seldom makes it through an episode without having some sort of an affair with one woman or another, to the annoyance of the woman who is the regular in the cast. These women include his ex-wife.

Which brings us to Fogs and Crime (Nebbie e delitti), another Italian series. This also has a police inspector, Soneri, who's in his forties, and has a live-in girlfriend whom he can't quite make up his mind to marry. In the most recent episode, Soneri was sorely tempted to have a little affair with a young girl he met in the course of his investigations. Wisely he opted out, and turned around to make some repairs to his normal relationship. Let's hope he retains his integrity in this sphere, which will make him a better man than Montalbano or Deed.

Natasha Stefanenko,
the co-star of Fogs and Crimes
Montalbano is set in a fictitious town in Sicily, where the sun never stops blazing and where everything is light. It's so hot you seldom see anyone on the street - we're always wondering where all the extras are. There's an element of sophistication too, to Montalbano's lifestyle, and lots of eating of seafood. Fogs and Crimes is set in the real town of Ferrara, in the north of Italy, and lives up to its series title: there is an almost continual fog, heaps of rain and a dreariness about the place, the people, and the settings. Soneri spends a good deal of time in his favourite ristorante too. Ferrara is a World Heritage Site, and certainly the buildings are lovely, but you wouldn't want to live there if the weather is anything like the series presents. I imagine it's not, and probably the citizens of Ferrara get fed up of seeing their counterparts scurrying out of the rain or barely being able to see through the fog.

Though the two series have many similarities in characters: the helpful offsider; the bumptious lieutenant character who's good at his job but knows it; the annoying Chief of Police, always wanting things wound up; the wonderful blonde leading lady (a part Russian in Fogs and Crimes); the innumerable transients: Tunisians, Poles, Russians and so on.  But there are enough broad differences to make both series well worth engaging in.
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