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Quirky comedy-drama Mafia Only Kills in Summer profiles the real-life story of journalist Mario Francese who dared to expose rampant mafia corruption in 1970s Sicily. Watch now on MHz Choice.

Now Streaming: Mafia Only Kills in Summer

Despite its lighthearted tone, Mafia Only Kills in Summer touches on some very sobering, real-life stories. One of these concerns the journalist Mario Francese, a charismatic man who our protagonist, ten-year-old Salvatore, meets through a classroom assignment. Salvatore is drawn to Mario because he encourages the kids to ask hard questions and not shy away from them.

In real life, Mario Francese was a courageous journalist, who dared to write the truths everyone in Sicily knew, but few had the courage to tell. These truths would cost him his life at the hands of mafioso Leoluca Bagarella, under the orders of mob boss Toto Riina. 

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Domenico Centamore (Toto Riina)

The investigation that cost Mario Francese his life was a series of articles in the newspaper La Sicilia, looking into the construction of the Garcia Dam – now known as the Mario Francese Dam. Following a tip, Francese began an inquiry into the procurement of public contracts for the reconstruction of the Belice Valley, and more specifically, the Garcia Dam. It’s the same dam Salvatore and his classmates stumble upon in Mafia Only Kills in Summer. His investigation brings no answers, but only more questions, which he poses to Mario.

The Garcia Dam was a public works project allotted billions of lire for completion, but remained instead in a state of perpetual construction, with no completion date in sight. Shortly after the publication of Mario Francese’s six-part investigative series, the editor-in-chief of La Sicilia was attacked in his home. Things came to a head on January 26th, 1979 when Mario Francese was shot to death when returning home from work. His death would be labeled a crime of passion and quickly closed, despite a strong suspicion of foul play from Police Commissioner Boris Giuliano (the fellow customer at the pastry shop that Salvatore becomes friends with.) This incident is also portrayed, from Giuliano’s perspective, in Transatlantic Ties.

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L to R: Edoardo Buscetta (Salvatore Giammaresi) and Roberto Burgio (Mario Francese)

The investigation into Francese’s death would remain closed for twenty years, until new evidence was uncovered by his son, Giuseppe Francese. Giuseppe had spent years reconstructing his father’s work, and painfully detailing the links between the Garcia Dam and the murder of his father Mario Francese.

His determination would pay off in 2001, when a large group of Mafia heads were brought to justice and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Among them were the big fish Toto Riina and Leoluca Bagarella, who, in addition to being key mafiosi in Mafia Only Kills in Summer, are also featured in the miniseries Transatlantic Ties and Giovanni Falconeand mentioned in The Last Godfather and Camorra Connection.

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