L’Assassino Dvd and Blu Ray–Review: Philip French on Elio Petri’s sophisticated political thriller

Marcello Mastroianni as an antiques dealer in trouble in L’Assassino.
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.

fonte: theguardian.com

Rassegna al Museo ICA di Londra dal 5 all’ 11 settembre 2014

Elio Petri: The Forgotten Genius

5 Sep 2014 – 11 Sep 2014

The ICA and Shameless Films Entertainment are proud to present a selection of films by Elio Petri, one of the most fascinating and intriguing filmmakers in Italian cinema of the 1960s and 70s. This selection of films aims to help the British public rediscover a thought-provoking and versatile filmmaker and to re-establish the critical recognition granted to other masters of Italian cinema. Petri is without a doubt one of the sharpest and most elegant of Italian filmmakers of the late 20th century.

Four films are being shown as part of this retrospective, starting with the Oscar winning Investigation of a Citizen. Other features include the much imitated sci-fi movie The 10th Victim, the claustrophobic thrillerA Ciascuno il Suo (We Still Kill the Old Way) and the unsettling psychological drama A Quiet Place in the Country.

Uncomfortably individualistic, impeccably stylish and irreverent interpretations of Italian reality, Petri’s films contributed to the period’s political and intellectual debate. Controversial, complex and visually arresting, his films are driven by observations on society and power, exploring social issues still relevant today, such as organised crime, the relationship between authorities and citizens, the role of artists in society, working class rights and consumerism; yet despite these contemporary concerns, Petri and his work remain difficult to classify.

Each of his films stand alone, both in their concept and execution, something which disconcerted critics and cinema experts alike at the time of their release. Since his films always contain an element of social observation, he was branded a ‘political’ director and this definition has perhaps made him appear a difficult, heavy filmmaker and obscured the tragicomic and irreverent elements often included in his films.

Dark, surreal and grotesque, his work remains one the most exciting examples of Italian cinema. His visual style is dazzling and memorable, and unquestionably he belongs alongside the great masters such as Fellini, Visconti, Pasolini and Bertolucci in the pantheon of Italian directors.

This selection of films gives the British public a rare opportunity to rediscover a provocative filmmaker who used various genres and styles, transcending them but remaining true to his idea of entertaining while asking questions.