A combination of mystery, comedy and travel, the Italian television series Imma Tataranni takes viewers on an armchair trip to Matera, the evocative Città dei Sassi (Stone City) in the Basilicata region, located in the instep of the Italian boot. The beautifully filmed drama follows the career and family life of its protagonist and intrepid investigator Imma Tataranni.
WHO IS IMMA TATARANNI?
As stated in the program’s Italian title Imma Tataranni, Sostituto procuratore, Imma is a deputy public prosecutor, a very hands-on type, conducting criminal investigations from the crime scene through to the presentation in court. The TV show is loosely based on the books by Matera-native Mariolina Venezina, who selected the main character’s last name from her hometown registry, Tataranni (pronounced Tah-tah-RAAH-nee), a mouthful, to be sure.
Imma Tataranni is a direct, take-charge woman whose garish mode of dress crowned by an unruly mass of red hair almost pales alongside her comically exaggerated facial expressions. She marches with a purpose, both mentally and physically, stepping out with her arms as much as her legs, leaving colleagues to scurry behind, and commands with tone and words, often biting, in her quest to ferret out the truth.
But this is very much a family show, and in Italy that means the family itself, in all its glory, with both the love and the challenges it brings. In Imma’s case, a docile husband with a passion for jazz, a teenage daughter grappling with the issues of adolescence, a mother who is losing her mental bearings, and to complete the family picture, a self-satisfied suocera (mother-in-law), always at-the-ready to dole out judgement and criticism.
Matera and the surrounding province set the scene for Imma Tataranni. The first episode begins with Imma on a raft, floating on the Ionian Sea in the beach community of Metaponto. It’s summer, after all, and where else would a good Italian be? But only Imma sees a finger bobbing past her. She waves to her husband for help, but he couldn’t possibly go into the water, having just eaten a bombolone (filled doughnut). Every Italian knows, you must wait three hours (ci vogliono tre ore!) to digest before going into the water. The program teems with many such “only in Italy” comic scenes.
Matera and its “Sassi,” a UNESCO World Heritage Site, take center stage in the series. To and from work, Imma bustles in and out of Palazzo dell’Annunziata, an attractive 18th-century building, the set for governmental offices. In the past, the prominent structure on Piazza Vittorio Veneto served as a convent, then judicial offices, and today houses a library, theater and restaurant.
From sweeping, overhead drone shots to interior caves fashioned for luxury and modest use, the viewer enjoys spectacular Matera panoramas as well as intimate interior shots, showing the lives of every stratum of society.
The deputy prosecutor also conducts investigations throughout the Province of Matera, which gives the opportunity of highlighting the area’s diverse countryside, from the austere “calanchi” (badlands)
to rolling hills of grain
to picturesque dams.
THEMES OF IMMA TATARANNI
Organized crime, dirty politicians, toxic waste, land use, southern challenges and immigrants are broad themes, but some murders also turn out to be based on the old standbys of jealousy and greed on a personal level. Distinctions are often made with regard to a privileged class – the wealth and power wielded by an old baronial family or high-level governmental officials as compared with the average citizen. There’s always the hope that such advantage will be used for the good of society, which more often than not turns out to be just the opposite.
Imma Tataranni’s family life and interpersonal work relations contribute considerably to the storylines: love and fidelity, taking care of aging parents, raising children and putting dinner on the table, to name a few. And to communicate those moments of poignancy and humor, the musical score telegraphs the emotional content in true Italian style, with its lighthearted theme underpinned by a comical bassoon and its love theme rendered by a sentimental saxophone.
PEOPLE AND PLACE
A wide array of fictional characters make up the cast, ranging from the region’s president to cowherders to clergy to the mafia to shop owners to artisans to school children to the retired, all anchored by policemen, lawyers and other administrative workers – big and small personalities touching on serious themes with a good dose of irony. Imma Tataranni is portrayed by Vanessa Scalera, whose marquis value has deservedly risen as a result of her interpretation. Fans of the Inspector Montalbano series will recognize Cesare Bocci, Montalbano’s deputy Mimì; here, in a more sinister role of Imma’s nemesis as the head of a dubious nonprofit. Another familiar face is that of the Neapolitan actor Carlo Bucirosso, donning his comfortable comic persona as Imma’s boss.
Produced by Italian RAI television, there are currently three seasons, with 6 episodes in the first running about two hours each, and 8 hour-long episodes in each of the second and third seasons. If your public library subscribes to Hoopla Digital, you can watch the first season for free. All three seasons are available in the United States and Canada through MHz Choice streaming service, which specializes in foreign television shows. (The first season is free for a limited time on MHz.)
Imma Tataranni’s characters and location come together for a delightful crime-comedy-drama with a special bonus of a great look at Matera and its province. For more information about the area, there’s my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, and if you would like to visit and see this this remarkable city and region for yourself (without the dead bodies), join my Basilicata Tour!
Read all about the fascinating Basilicata region in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal, and explore Basilicata’s southern neighbor in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south.”
Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook page, Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page, Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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