Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant depiction of the characters from Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather made his movie by the same name one of the greatest ever filmed. It is the first Mafia movie that was written, directed and acted by Italians. But The Godfather is so much more than just a Mafia movie, it is also a story about power, family, and capitalism.
The Godfather is a masterful reconstruction of an era. The trilogy is mainly set in the United States and it is certainly a captivating record of the 1940s and 1950s-era New York City, but there are also some important scenes shot in the Sicilian villages in Italy.
Sicily has gained notoriety over the years as a Mafia stronghold in part because of the acclaimed Godfather trilogy, but outside of fiction, this beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea is considered the motherland of the Mafia.
Over the years, Sicily saw thousands of tourists traveling to get a glimpse of their lifestyle and to visit the locations where The Godfather was filmed. Corleone, the town that shares its name with Don Vito Corleone, portrayed by Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro in The Godfather, is probably among the most visited, but Coppola actually didn’t use it as a film location for his Oscar-winning trilogy.
This was due to the fact that when filming started on the first movie in the early 1970s, the town of Corleone was too modern and too big to represent rural Italy as it was referred to in Mario Puzo’s novel, so Coppola had to pick other locations. The village of Motta Camastra, Forza d’Agro, and the beautiful small village of Savoca, close to Messina, were used instead.
In the movie, Michael escaped to Corleone, Sicily, after he started a bloody war between Italian mob families in the United States because he shot the two men determined to murder his father, one of them a police captain.
Few are those who wouldn’t remember the pivotal scene in which Michael Corleone (portrayed by Al Pacino) sat in an outdoor bar after a day of walking with his bodyguards. The scene was filmed at the Bar Vitelli, which believe it or not, is still open and is pretty much quite the same as it was when the movie was shot.
In the scene, Michael Corleone and his bodyguards sit on the terrace of Bar Vitelli and discuss with the owner of the bar a beautiful girl they saw just a little while ago in the country. “She wore a red dress and a red ribbon in her hair. She looks more Greek than Italian.” This is how one of Michael’s bodyguards described the girl. Upon realizing that it was actually his daughter, the owner of Bar Vitelli stormes off back inside, totally unaware of how important the man asking for his daughter is.
Michael Corleone, however, makes him an offer he can’t refuse, and the owner of the bar agrees to a meeting by saying, “Come to my house Sunday morning. My name is Vitelli.” It is only then that Michael learns the girl’s name is Apollonia.
The beautiful bar with a vine-covered terrace is part of an 18th-century stone-flagged building. It is still a functioning establishment and a top tourist spot in the village of Savoca. There are hundreds of bars in Sicily that look quite the same as Bar Vitelli from the outside, but none of them shares this story.
Once inside, you can have a look at the collection of photos from the making of the film and you can try granita di limoni, Coppola’s favorite drink for the summer of 1971. The doorway to the bar is identical to the one in the movie as it is still framed by the same beaded curtains.
And as for those of you who are planning to visit Bar Vitelli in Savoca, Sicily, don’t forget to try granita di limoni and have a lovely chat with Signora Maria about the glorious days when The Godfather was filmed there. While in Savoca, you can also visit the church of San Nicolo, where Michael Corleone and Apollonia got married.