A Ciascuno Il Suo Film Critical Essay

May 29 - June 19, 2003

The Films of Elio Petri

One of the most politically charged filmmakers to emerge in the European cinema of the 1960s, Elio Petri has often been overshadowed by such contemporaries as Bertolucci and Pasolini. Ripe for reexamination, his sleek oeuvre bears witness to a rare melding of Marxist ideology and cinematic sophistication. Beginning his career as a film critic for the communist newspaper L’Unità and a screenwriter and documentary maker before turning to feature films, Petri became both a master of dry, caustic humor and political outrage. Managing to craft films that were both wildly entertaining and harshly critical of modern capitalist society, he sliced deep into the heart of the Italian zeitgeist and of universal human psychology. This program provides a rare opportunity to screen the complete works from this modern master of ideological satire.

This retrospective series is co-presented with Circolo Italiano di Boston, with program note assistance from Pacific Cinémathèque, Vancouver.

May 29 (Thursday) 7pm

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1970, 35mm, color, 112 min.
Italian with English subtitles
With Gian Maria Volonté, Florinda Bolkan, Salvo Randone

Inaugurating a cycle of cinema politico in Italy, Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is a dark and satirical political thriller set during a time of internal political disturbance, where a psychopathic Roman police inspector (Volonté) cracks down with relish on the political dissidents of the day. After slashing the throat of his masochistic mistress (Bolkan), the inspector is perversely put in charge of the investigation. With sadistic pleasure, he plants clues that implicate himself and then craftily diffuses them, ostensibly to prove his invincibility. As director Petri's split-second edits rocket back and forth between flashback and detection, Investigation becomes a biting critique of Italian police methods and authoritarian repression, a psychological study of a budding crypto-fascist, and a probing why-dunnit. The iciest of film noirs, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion won the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film of 1970.

Sin in the Afternoon

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1965, 35mm, b/w, 25 min.
With Charles Aznavour, Claire Bloom Italian with English subtitles

Elio Petri's contribution to the anthology film High Infidelity, a collection of works by then-contemporary Italian directors offering amusing takes on marriage and betrayal, stars Charles Aznavour as a wealthy entrepreneur desperately trying to seduce and satisfy a mysterious woman (Claire Bloom). He goes to fantastic lengths to overcome what is revealed to be the woman's 'ailment' with humorous results. Although narratively slight in comparison with Petri's more pointed political satires, the film reveals the directors sharp eye for modern design.

May 30 (Friday) 7 pm
June 8 (Sunday) 7 pm
June 12 (Thursday) 9 pm
June 17 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Tenth Victim (La decima vittima)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1965, 16mm, color, 92 min.
With Marcello Mastroianni, Ursula Andress, Elsa Martinelli
English language version

A flamboyant, futuristic fantasy in the 1960s Pop-art, sci-fi vein of Barbarella and Modesty Blaise, Petri’s late-night cult classic is set in a 21st century where war and aggression have been replaced by a game of legalized murder called "Man Hunt." Mastroianni and sex goddess Ursula Andress star as computer-chosen contestants of this deadly televised spectacle. She is out to make him her tenth victim in the contest, but romance inevitably intervenes. Legendary in part for Andress’s lethal double-barreled brassiere, this lurid satire lampoons media and advertising, faddish 1960s religions and health trends, the obsession with fame and money, and much else.

May 30 (Friday) 9 pm
June 9 (Monday) 7 pm
June 12 (Thursday) 7 pm
June 13 (Friday) 9:30 pm

A Quiet Place in the Country (Un tranquillo posto in campagna)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1968, 35mm, color, 106 min.
With Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Gabriella Grimaldi
Italian with English subtitles

Petri’s erotic, intellectual horror film, winner of a Special Jury Prize at Berlin in 1969, offers a harrowing, hallucinatory account of an artist’s descent into madness. Franco Nero stars as a successful abstract painter who heads out for a peaceful rural idyll with his mistress-turned-manager (Redgrave) only to become unhinged by his growing obsession for the ghost of a murdered woman (Grimaldi) that haunts their holiday villa. The film’s striking canvases are by the American artist Jim Dine and the original score is from noted film composer Ennio Morricone.

May 31 (Saturday) 7 pm
June 3 (Tuesday) 7 pm
June 11 (Wednesday) 9 pm
June 18 (Wednesday) 7 pm

The Assassin (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) (L’assassino)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1961, 35mm, b/w, 105 min.
With Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Salvo Randone
Italian with English subtitles

A Kafkaesque crime film that showcases the great Marcello Mastroianni in peak form, Petri’s acclaimed first feature is still often cited as one of his best. Mastroianni plays Nello Poletti, a stylish Roman antiques dealer accused of murdering his mistress (Presle). Punctuated with frequent flashbacks, the film details the game of investigatory cat-and-mouse that plays out between the suspect and a deviously crafty police inspector (Randone).

Petri renders this "anti-realist thriller" with a highly convincing atmosphere of claustrophobia, corruption, moral doubt, and dread. Whether the hero is innocent of murder, he is, in Petri’s words, "guilty of inhumanity."

May 31 (Saturday) 9 pm
June 3 (Tuesday) 9 pm
June 17 (Tuesday) 7 pm

The Days are Numbered (I giorni contati)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1962, 35mm, b/w, 102 min.
With Salvo Randone, Franco Sportelli, Vittorio Caprioli
Italian with English subtitles

Never released in an English version, Petri’s second feature displays the same evocative mix of realism and symbolism found in The Assassin. Co-written by the prominent scenarist Tonino Guerra—a favorite collaborator of Petri, Antonioni, Rosi, and other Italian luminaries—the film stars Salvo Randone as Cesare, a lonely Roman plumber in his early fifties. Traveling by tram one day, he witnesses the sudden death by heart attack of a man his own age. The event shocks him into the realization that his own days might be numbered and leaves him determined to make the most of the time he has left. Quitting his job, he sets out with enthusiasm to enjoy the finer things in life, but the effort only leaves him dispirited and disillusioned.

June 1 (Sunday) 7 pm
June 4 (Wednesday) 7 pm
June 7 (Saturday) 7 pm

Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember

Directed by Anna Maria Tat
Italy 1997, 35mm, b/w and color, 198 min.
Italian with English subtitles

The prolific body of work Marcello Mastroianni amassed over a fifty-year period is ample justification for this large-scale filmic memoir of the actor. Like Martin Scorsese’s recent accounts of American and Italian cinema, Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember presents a personal account of a lifelong engagement with cinema. In this warmly conceived portrait, Mastroianni provides a lively series of anecdotes about his experiences with the great Italian directors including De Sica, Fellini, and Petri—whose film

Todo modo he counts as one the lost masterpieces of Italian cinema. Employing a wealth of clips from his films and rare screen tests, director Anna Maria Tatò (Mastroianni’s companion for the last twenty-two years of his life) allows her subject to provide a heartfelt, humorous, and deeply philosophical analysis of his very rich life.

June 2 (Monday) 7 pm
June 9 (Monday) 9 pm
June 13 (Friday) 7 pm
June 19 (Thursday) 7 pm

The Working Class Goes to Heaven (aka Lulu the Tool) (La classe operaia va in paradiso)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1971, 35mm, color, 111 min.
With Gian Maria Volonté, Mariangela Melato, Salvo Randone
Italian with English subtitles

Petri’s absurdist political fable shared top honors at Cannes in 1972 with compatriot Francesco Rosi’s The Mattei Affair. A giddy, gut-level, sex-and-politics critique of industrial capitalism, the film features Petri regular Gian Maria Volonté as Lulu, a gung-ho Turin factory worker caught up in the dehumanizing wheels of mechanical production and meaningless mass consumption. Sexual fantasies drive his productivity for the company, but his perspective on work and life undergo a radical transformation when he is injured in a factory accident and temporarily laid off. Petri opts for an aggressive, expressionistic visual and aural approach that effectively captures the brutality of modern industrial working conditions.

June 2 (Monday) 9:15 pm
June 14 (Saturday) 9 pm
June 15 (Sunday) 7 pm
June 19 (Thursday) 9:15 pm

Property Is No Longer a Theft (La proprietà non è più un furto)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1973, 35mm, color, 125 min.
With Ugo Tognazzi, Flavio Bucci, Salvo Randone
Italian with English subtitles

Money (and private property) is definitely the root of all evil in this eccentric work, the third film in a loose trilogy on "social schizophrenia" that also includes Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Working Class Goes to Heaven. Making expressionist use of Brechtian monologues, stylized montage, and character types, this barbed satire concerns a lowly bank clerk (Bucci), literally allergic to money and revolted by its nefarious influence on humanity, who launches a campaign of harassment against a wealthy butcher (Tognazzi), stealing small, insignificant items— but never money—from the man. The victim uses the thefts to make large and fraudulent insurance claims, refusing to finger the thief for fear his own financial improprieties might be exposed.

June 6 (Friday) 7 pm
June 10 (Tuesday) 9 pm
June 16 (Monday) 7 pm

Todo Modo

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1976, 35mm, color, 130 min.
With Gian Maria Volonté, Marcello Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli
Italian with English subtitles

A metaphysical mystery based on the novel by Leonardo Sciascia, Todo modo is the most curious and puzzling of Petri’s films and offers a not-so-veiled critique of Christian Democratic political power. Italy’s most successful politicians go on a monastic retreat at the convent of Don Gaetano (Mastroianni) to contemplate their notable careers and secretly devise a new power structure. After a series of mysterious crimes, the consortium becomes divided and, ultimately, depleted. The film’s unabashed leftist politics are given vivid articulation through the work of noted production designer Dante Ferretti.

June 6 (Friday) 9:30 pm
June 11 (Wednesday) 7 pm
June 18 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Good News (Buone notizie)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1979, 35mm, color, 110 min.
With Giancarlo Giannini, Angela Molina
Italian with English subtitles

Petri’s final film, the ironically titled Good News, is a bitter, sometimes surreal black comedy that takes a savage swipe at the emptiness of its media-dominated age. Giancarlo Giannini stars as the nameless hero, a disaffected media executive who spends his days watching violent programming on the six television screens in his office and his evenings neglecting his frustrated wife at home. An encounter with an apparently delusional old friend who claims to be in mortal danger, and the friend’s alluring nymphomaniac wife, provides a temporary respite from drab routine. Set against a notably blighted urban environment and featuring plenty of intentionally zipless and unconsummated sex, this extravagant film offers a blistering caricature of contemporary alienation and media-induced vapidity.

June 8 (Sunday) 9 pm
June 10 (Tuesday) 7 pm
June 14 (Saturday) 7 pm

We Still Kill the Old Way (A ciascuno il suo)

Directed by Elio Petri
Italy 1967, 35mm, color, 99 min.
With Gian Maria Volonté, Irene Papas,
Italian with English subtitles

Based on leonardo sciascia’s novel A Man’s Blessing, this tense, surreal thriller was one of the earliest works to take the Italian Mafia as its subject. After two men are killed in a Sicilian town, a lonely professor with no family to protect (Volonté) takes it upon himself to investigate the crime. Through this obsessive quest, his life begins to resemble paranoid fantasy—a dark and ominous world that viewers are invited to share.

Following the decline of neorealism, the Italian cinema suddenly renewed itself both thematically and stylistically in the 1960s. The social criticism still came largely from the left, extending from the spaghetti western to satires on middle-class life like Pietro Germi's Divorce Italian Style, and chief among the influential new innovators were Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, Rosi, Pasolini and Bertolucci. From this list, the name of Elio Petri (1929-82) is too often missing nowadays. A working-class Roman intellectual, Petri wrote trenchant film criticism for the Communist paper L'Unità and realistic screenplays. After the Hungarian invasion, he quit the party and made his directorial debut in 1961, reconciling his Marxism and his desire to reach a popular audience. His aim was to combine sharp political commentary, technical sophistication and star performances, and this he achieved with the political thriller L'Assassino.

The Italian cinema's leading actor of the day, Marcello Mastroianni, gives a superb performance as Alfredo Martelli, an unscrupulous antiques dealer with a smart shop near the Spanish Steps, who one morning is picked up by some aggressive cops and accused of killing his wealthy sponsor and mistress (the beautiful Micheline Presle). Like a cross between JB Priestley's An Inspector Calls and Kafka's The Trial, L'Assassino sees Alfredo being broken down by the good-cop bad-cop interrogation approach over a harrowing day and night. Responding to their questions, Alfredo slides in and out of flashbacks (a cinematic style then unfamiliar), exposing his ethical shortcomings, guilt and revealing the bad faith underlying middle-class Italian life.

The movie is a tour de force, restlessly shot in a disturbing monochrome by Carlo Di Palma, soon to emerge as one of the cinema's greatest colour cinematographers. Petri's collaborator was one of Italy's greatest co-scriptwriters, the poet Tonino Guerra, the subject of a 50-minute interview on this Blu-Ray disc.

Before his death of cancer in 1982, Petri went on to make 10 substantial movies, the most famous (a companion piece to L'Assassino) being Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970). It stars the leftwing actor Gian Maria Volonté, another regular collaborator, as a near psychotic homicide cop so convinced he's above the law that he kills his mistress to test his theory. It won an Oscar as best foreign language film.

0 Thoughts to “A Ciascuno Il Suo Film Critical Essay

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *