TV Worth Watching 1: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) – Italy

TV Worth Watching is a new series highlighting my favorite television viewing. I am a big fan of UK television, so you are sure to see many UK shows and movies featured here. — Douglas

TV Worth Watching: Detective Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) – Italy


For our first entry in this series, I figured I would share something that is a little challenging, since it is not in English. All episodes are fully sub-titled, though, so you can still enjoy the series, even if you speak no Italian at all.

We were introduced to Inspector Montalbano by our Sicilian relatives when they took us to visit the city of Modica on our last trip. Modica is the real world stand-in for the city of Vigata where Montalbano is the head of police. When we started watching the series, it was much like watching television shows that are shot here in Los Angeles. We kept spotting locations where we had visited, buildings, churches and more. We also enjoyed seeing the Italian people and hearing the language again on a regular basis.

While we may have some personal connection to the series, Montalbano is also an excellent television show in its own right. The acting and writing is top notch, as is the production. The scripts are all based on the best selling novels by Andrea Camilleri. As much as I might like the English language remakes of various, international detective shows, it is such a pleasure to see (and hear) these stories in their original locations, with their original actors and language. We were so happy to find that it airs locally on Channel 28.4 KCET which is the home of the Mhz Network. Mhz focuses on international entertainment, especially mystery series. There are several other Italian series as well as French series, such as Maigret, which also air on the network.

“Inspector Salvo Montalbano (Italian: Commissario Salvo Montalbano) is a fictional character created by Italian writer Andrea Camilleri in a series of novels and short stories.

The fractious detective’s character and manner encapsulate much of Sicilian mythology and astute detective work. The original books are written in a mixture of Italian, strict Sicilian, and a Sicilianized Italian.

Although the Inspector Montalbano series of novels are staged in the Sicilian context, Camilleri uncompromisingly confronts many contemporary political and social problems. The novels were translated into English by Stephen Sartarelli. The translation of the Montalbano novels started only after five novels had already been published in Italian and gained popularity among the Italian-speaking public. The translator Stephen Sartarelli has attempted to maintain the mixture of Italian and Sicilian dialect in the dialogues. In addition, he has added notes at the end of each of the novels, which give short explanations regarding many of the peculiarities of Sicilian and Italian society depicted in the novels.

The name Montalbano is a homage to the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán; the similarities between Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho and Camilleri’s fictional detective are remarkable. Both writers make great play of their protagonists’ gastronomic preferences.[1]
Inspector Montalbano is an engaging hero – honest, decent and loyal. He has his own way of doing things, and his superiors regard him as something of a loose cannon. One of the strengths of the novels is Montalbano’s ability to navigate through a murky world, a world of shady connections and favours owed and owing, without compromising himself beyond what he can live with. There is a great deal of humor in his character, but the subtext is hard criticism of the social and political situation of both the Sicilian and Italian contexts. In fact, Camilleri has said that social commentary “…was always my aim. In many crime novels, the events seem completely detached from the economic, political and social context in which they occur. […] In my books, I deliberately decided to smuggle into a detective novel a critical commentary on my times. This also allowed me to show the progression and evolution in the character of Montalbano.” [2]

As the head of the Vigàta police precinct, Montalbano is balancing between the demands of his superiors and the realities of local crime and life in general. In fact, a determining factor of his success as a Sicilian policeman seems to be his ability to bridge between different cultures. There is the “northern” force, coming from Milan that attempts to standardize regulations and increase transparency. On the opposite side is the particularistic “southern” culture with complex webs of relationships that affect the way things are done. Montalbano excels at balancing between these two, while being true to his principles. [3]” — Wikipedia

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