In the UK, BBC4 started showing Inspector Montalbano in their Saturday night Foreign Crime Drama slot. I was late coming to the show, and certainly hadn’t read any of the books – it’s rare for me to do book AND visual media: I tend to do one or the other.
In 2014, I flicked through the shows on BBC4, but didn’t know where they sat in the general running order. In 2015, I paid more attention, to the point that I requested (and got) the box set for a Christmas present. Whilst I haven’t read the corresponding books, I have watched all the episodes and am now offering my take on them in future ad hoc posts. Where I know about or have read the corresponding book as well, I will try to do a “compare and contrast”.
The Snack Thief is number 3 in the Commissario Montalbano books by Andrea Camilleri, but the first episode of the TV show (released in 1999) and we’re immediately being introduced to things: the early morning phone calls from Caterella, Montalbano (with a surprising amount of hair on his shaved head) swimming in the sea, the photogenic Mimi, Fazio (looking shockingly young), Nicolò the TV news anchor man, lots of swearing you don’t get on the BBC subtitles, Livia, and Caterella’s issue with the door. My numbering of episodes will go in conjunction with the box set, rather than the release date (so collection 1 etc).
Old man Lapecora is found dead in his apartment block lift with bottle of wine at his feet and a knife in his back. We get to see Montalbano’s interview technique, especially when confronted with neighbours more interested in a bottle of wine and their own reputations than their dead neighbour.
Meanwhile, the Tunisian shot dead on a boat in international waters is initially investigated by Mimi, but the investigation is moved to the harbour office at the decision of the Commissioner.
We get to learn more about Montalbano’s home life, with him loving food, especially pasta with broccoli, and that Adelina, his housekeeper is the mother of a criminal he arrested previously.
It turns out that Lapecora has a Tunisian mistress called Karima, they used to meet at his office away from his wife. Montalbano finds that Karima and her son, François, have left the night before, leaving behind a bank book with 300 million lira in the account. Meanwhile, there’s uproar at a local school when it appears that someone has been stealing the children’s food …. The snack thief of the title.
Livia arrives in town and you can see why Katharina Böhm was chosen as the actress, despite not speaking Italian……not only is she beautiful, but willing to do some frontal nudity during her first scene. Livia not the only one to go bare chested, I have to admit, with Montalbano rarely getting through an episode without his top off, one of the few ways you can track time passing, getting to see Zingaretti’s weight fluctuate…
In talking to Livia, Montalbano realises who the snack thief is, and stakes out an area, managing to catch the child. Livia, having come on the stakeout, insists on bringing the child back to the house. Salvo realises just how broody Livia is, and they start talking about getting married in order to adopt François (for that is who it is) and some heated words are said by Livia about their relationship and Salvo’s selfishness.
Whilst watching the news, François recognises the dead Tunisian as his uncle. After a plea on TV, a witness comes forward having seen Karima with Fahrid. The reg number for the car turns out to be a secret service car, and it spooks Salvo to the point he makes François disappear with the help of Mimi and Fazio.
Salvo manages to link the death of the old man to the Tunisian, who was actually Karima’s brother and a terrorist, who had been lured to Sicily to set up a base, only to be betrayed and killed. In turn, Fahrid starts to tidy up the witnesses by killing Karima, with Lapecora having been killed by his wife for bringing his mistress into her house.
The secret services pay Montalbano a visit and they put things in context. They are worried that things might leak out, so ask him to name his price…it’s Karima’s body. When the secret service man refuses, Salvo plays his trip card….the video recorder on the bookshelf. The following morning the body is “magically” found, with only Montalbano knowing he had messed up the recording.
François is staying with Mimi’s sister in law in the countryside, whilst things are sorted out. The episode ends with Salvo coming to terms with what Livia had said to him about François being the son they will never have, and he proposes that they get married.
There’s lots of information dumped on you as a viewer, without you necessarily knowing what’s happening – it’s only having seen later episodes first (and the occasional documentary) that I know what to look for. This being number 3 in the book series, I wonder how much has been defined in the previous books – they’re rather slim (in English) so I suspect not. It helps that Camilleri helped on writing the series as well as the books.
There’s some quite moody lighting, especially around the conversations with the secret service, and I think it makes Zingaretti look rather good and brooding. I’ve done some calculations and he must be in his mid-30s when he made this episode.
Due to the fact that I don’t speak Italian, it was only after doing some investigations that I realise that Zingaretti says his lines in Italian and Böhm says her in English and is dubbed after. There is a certain chemistry between the two, despite neither speaking the other’s language well enough – it was only on repeated viewing that I could spot Böhm speaking English (by lip reading). I believe that the director wanted a certain look (wide-eyed blond beauty) that Böhm delivered – and the language barrier was easily enough passed in post-production.
What was a nice touch – if you pay attention, the actor who plays François is the same actor all the way through, from 5 till 20-something. It’s the only acting work he’s done, and I find it a lovely continuity that not many long-running series will pay attention to.