Writer, director, and actor Pierfrancesco Diliberto (known commonly as Pif) knows that the best way to kill giants is with humor. The satirist has spent the last 15 years working in Italian television, and now he has made the transition to the big screen with The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, a comedic autobiography that traces Pif’s romantic obsession from his cradle to another while addressing the mafia violence that permeated the era.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer takes place in Palermo, the beautiful and picturesque capital of Sicily, and follows Arturo (played as a child by Alex Bisconti and as an adult by Pif), whose life is constantly affected and impacted by the Second Mafia Wars that began in the early 1970s and lasted until the mid-90s. Arturo was conceived at the very moment that a mafia bomb went off in the same building that his parents were enjoying their wedding night, forever tying Arturo to the surrounding violence. Violence that never seems to bother Arturo, mainly because there is very little room left in his life once Flora enters.

Flora (played as a child by Ginevra Antona and as an adult by Cristiana Capotondi) is the daughter of a judge, one of the many government officials that stand up to the mafia, and one of the many who help guide the young Arturo. Like most boys, Arturo knows what he wants, but he isn’t quite sure how to go about getting it. His first guide, a police inspector who Arturo casually runs into, exposes Arturo to the delights of an iris, an Italian pastry filled with flaked chocolate and ricotta cheese. After one bite, Arturo understands what he must do and starts buying Flora an iris every morning.

However, Arturo is still too shy and sneaks into class early to leave the iris on Flora’s desk before she arrives, taking pleasure in her appreciation of the pastry. This charade plays for weeks until one morning when Arturo isn’t allowed to enter the delicatessen because the police inspector was killed while enjoying his own morning iris. Arturo decides that this is the moment for him to come clean with Flora and tell her it was he leaving the breakfast treats all along.

Alas, Arturo’s reveal doesn’t go the way he hoped and kicks off a cycle that will continually plague Arturo’s life, poor timing when it comes to telling Flora his emotions, and an oddly coincidental habit of making friends that the mafia eventually rubs out.

As Arturo grows older, the mafia attacks grow more violent and seemingly more frequent, while Arturo tries harder and harder to win Flora’s heart. Arturo becomes a journalist, Flora becomes a politician’s assistant and speechwriter, and Pif attempts to imbue his third act with a touch of nobility and appreciation. Pif doesn’t quite pull it off, but he isn’t entirely unsuccessful either.

The central conceit of The Mafia Only Kills in Summer is that Arturo comes to Flora the way Palermo comes to freedom from the mafia. It’s a messy premise, one that doesn’t seem readily available for humor, but what humor is there, Pif finds. That seems to be enough to keep the ship afloat for 85 minutes.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Mafia Only Kills in Summer / La mafia uccide solo d’estate (2013)
Directed by: Pierfrancesco Diliberto
Written by: Michele Astori, Pierfrancesco Diliberto and Marco Martani
Produced by: Fausto Brizzi, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Mieli
Starring: Pierfrancesco Diliberto, Cristiana Capotondi, Alex Bisconti, Ginevra Antona, Barbara Tabita, Rosario Lisma
Distrib Films, Not Rated, Running time 85 minutes, Opens April 24, 2015.