I chose Godfather Pt. II for this week’s blog post because of Francis Ford Coppola’s mastery of mise en scene.
The intercutting editing chronologically allowed Coppola to provide more power towards a particular moment and manipulate the audience into the message and motifs Coppola is accentuating. The wardrobes allowed the viewers to understand what time period it was while also telling you the level of success they were having at the time depending on what they were wearing.
The visual characteristics of the film are open as the cinematographer Gordon Willis is famous for using natural light in the Godfather series to represent mood. I believe because of the chronological order and tragic fate of gangsters in film represents the characters in a closed frame. The relationship of design elements share both open and closed frames as the Godfather series is iconic for thematic visuals like the color orange for death. Yet, it is ultimately a character driven trilogy. Due to the mixed chronological order of Godfather II, it is a closed frame within the world of the story.
I wanted to focus on a particular scene regarding mise en scene, which would be Vito Corleone’s assassination of Don Fanucci.
Don Fanucci’s death scene utilized many motifs from the original starting from young Vito Corleone’s classic line to Clemenza and Tessio regarding Fanucci that he’ll “make him an offer he don’t refuse” with the imagery of oranges behind him. Oranges are symbolic of death. Fanucci is juggling an orange when he leaves the cafe going home, there are also oranges when Sollozzo meets Vito in his office, as well as during Don Vito’s assassination attempt and death. Although Vito charms Fanucci enough to get offered a job to work for him, he declines by killing him. Their contrasting suits with Vito wearing black and Fanucci wearing white is telling of the moral ambiguity regarding the Mafia. Fanucci is the villain, yet Vito is the one committing the crime of murder. The Jesus statue covered in money is another representation of the hypocritical values of a Catholic gangster. Love and charity are two important values of Christianity, yet the way of the Mafia is often associated with murder and extortion. As the statue of Jesus is carried throughout the parade, it passes through a number of apples which represent temptation to go after the money.
Michael’s plot to kill Sollozzo and McCluskey in the first film is eerily similar to Vito’s assassination on Fanucci. They both decide to kill their victims in a safe and unsuspecting place. For Michael, the place was a restaurant of Sollozzo and McCluskey’s choosing. In Vito’s case, Fanucci arranges to meet at a dark and secluded cafe. The extremely dark cafe contrasts with the religious festival happening outside. The yellow and brownish tints in the cafe scene demonstrates the use of flashback to remind viewers of Michael in the restaurant. The audience is expecting something to happen, but instead part ways until Fanucci goes to the ultimate safe haven, his own home. Fanucci foreshadows his own death by deeming a puppet show too violent for him while Vito reaching for his hidden gun on a rooftop, just like Michael in the bathroom stall. The fireworks going off as Fanucci is first shot represent a celebration to the death of a villain that is further delved into as Vito walks past a delighted crowd. The final shot of Fanucci’s death is Vito holding baby Michael in his hands telling him he loves him very much. Vito’s words to Michael speak in volumes because of what had already occurred in The Godfather as Vito tells Michael right before he dies
“I never wanted this for you. I work my whole life… I don’t apologize…to take care of my family, and I refused to be a fool, dancing on the string held by all those big shots. I don’t apologize. That’s my life, but I thought that, that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone.”
Vito is referring to a marionette when he refers to the strings which is ironic because although he didn’t intend to Vito acted as the puppet-master by being the Godfather. His decisions and occupations affect others, sequentially affecting Michael’s former pacifist views when he is faced with the corrupt McCluskey.
The contextual elements of The Godfather trilogy from Coppola’s use of mise en scene helped cement the status of these films as timeless classics.
– Andy Lam