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"Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sopetto" ("Investigation
of a citizen above suspicion") is a surrealistic police-story directed
by the Italian film-maker Elio Petri in 1970 .
A very original screenplay tells us the story of a respected police inspector who commits a crime and deliberately leaves clues just to find out how big is his reputation of "a citizen above suspicion" . The theme is developed from this single event and becomes an intelligent and provocative reflection about the concepts of authority and institution . While some could wrongly see this movie as a left-wing political one because of the way it depicts police authorities' excessive power , It is really only a fair illustration denouncing the impotence of institutions of making an impartial investigation about their own mistakes . The main theme of the movie rises up a brilliant and paradoxical question : how can the organs which administrate the "Law" condemn themselves without risking their own collapse and negation ? To this question the movie answers with the pessimistic vision that a real justice is an utopia because of human-beings' weaknesses and self-preservative nature . This brilliant reflection is developed in an highly entertaining and smoothly constructed satirical police-story : in fact the movie has an overwhelming "funny" tone especially thanks to Gian Maria Volonte' superb acting in the main role of the "fascistoid" police inspector . The ending will surprise you with the way it reveals the surrealistic nature of the whole topic .
Even if this movie was highly awarded and acclaimed at its time , (1 Oscar for Best foreign film , 1 Nomination for Best original screenplay , won Grand Prize of the Jury and Golden Palm nomination at Cannes Films Festival , 1 Golden globe nomination ) at the present days it has been criminally forgotten . I can only add that I personally consider it one of the best Italian films ever made and one of the most provocative police-stories in the last 40 years . Unfortunately it suffers of a very poor international distribution so , unless you live in Italy , it won't be easy for you to find this movie . But it doesn't matter how hard it will be , it will be worth it .
The final scene in Elio Petri's 1970 Investigation of a Citizen Above
Suspicion concludes with a quote from Kafka's The Trial: "Whatever he
may seem to us, he is yet a servant of the Law; that is, he belongs to
the Law and as such is set beyond human judgment." What Petri has left
out from this excerpt is also that "to doubt his integrity is to doubt
the Law itself". The "he" in question here is the man of the Law the
police inspector played brilliantly, hair slicked back et al, by Gian
Maria Volontè. Without any scruples, we see the Inspector coldly cut
his mistress's throat with a razor between the sheets in a kinky
role-playing romp, sans scruples, only to prove to himself if he is, as
he believes, a citizen above suspicion and beyond the Law which he so
firmly adheres to.
This complex film is a cinematic gem thanks to its multifarious tropes at times absurd black comedy, at times vitriolic political satire, at times psychological study into sexual fetishism and power. Of course, all of these themes intermingle so effortlessly that you can't help but be taken aback by the richness of Petri's byzantine vision. The left-leaning director here depicts the autocratic terror that overtook Italy in the late 60s, an overture to the tense, decade-long period known as the "years of lead" in Italian politics a time of fascist repression and a struggle between the equally-as-extreme left and right of center parties.
Beyond its political overtones (which are universal yet now paradoxically outdated, as we see rebellious students waving their little red Maoist books around to anger the "fascist pigs" in the police force), Investigation plays its strongest and most universal hand in its view of authority, and specifically, those that wield an ungodly amount of it. The Inspector, in a snug, black suit, commands and degrades his subordinates, yet in the way a responsible teacher would reprimand a naughty student. That is, he believes his own righteousness and position, and here, once he commits the murder of Augusta Terzi (the stunning Florinda Bolkan), he leaves the Law to spin its wheels of Justice, having full confidence in the organ of power that commands him. As the Inspector sits in the office of his boss, the Commissioner (a sleazy Gianni Santuccio), he trembles like a child, waiting for approval and acceptance. After the latter admits to having an affair with the murdered victim, the unperturbed Commissioner asks him amidst a smoke-filled smirk, holding a cigar in his fat fingers, "So, was she, you know? Any good?" Here we can make the link between power and sexual impotence, as the simple reason the Inspector kills his lover is because she has brought to light his personal inadequacies as a man. An individual who holds such dominance over others, who commands such authority, is an addictive aphrodisiac for Bolkan's underwear-hating heroine, but after a while, she sees her Inspector is nothing more than a capricious child obsessed and deceived with a position of power that holds no integrity and no truth. For her, his sexual appeal has vanished, the organ of dominance has grown limp, as the incongruity between the Inspector's projected image and his actual self begins to grow. She hates his little black socks, his dull black suit, and his overall bureaucratic appearance. In a few great satirical moments, we see the impressionable Inspector strolling the streets in a trendy new khaki suit, a purple silk ascot, fashionable sunglasses a caricature of Italian culture to the fullest.
So what prompts Volontè's Inspector to make his final decision? Is he a stern follower of the Law who wants to test it and prove himself superior to his inept colleagues; a sadistic neofascist bureaucrat who lives for control and subjugation of others; an infantile with a bruised ego thanks to an untamable feminine force? Are we, as viewers, not to question his actions, but simply to accept them as necessary because he's "a man of the Law", superior to us, despite his faults, as Kafka leads us to believe or is that just Petri's tongue-in-cheek humor getting the best of us? That's the fun of this great film, and the kookiness of Ennio Morricone's twangy score adds to the comical effect of a dark and witty étude into power, sex, and politics.
Some comments in light of previous descriptions of the movie.
This movie is definitively about state violence. Even if to a viewer that has no foreknowledge of the police state that was instituted in Italy (with the help of the CIA as the movie alludes to) in order to keep the Communist Party from taking power (the PCI had the biggest following of any parties at that time), the fact remains that the movie is not much more surreal than the socio-political reality facing the film-maker.
Murders and "suicides" (while in police custody) of left-wing political activists and of anarchists are a fact that Elio Petri was painfully aware of. He made a documentary called "Streghi dello stato" "witches of the state" where Jean Maria Volonte and others expose such "suicides". Elio Petri was politically aware and through out his work there is criticism of the right wing of Italian politics (see TODO MORO).
I think that the movie is most powerful once you are aware of the fact that you can be victimized at the hands of an institution, esp. at the hands of an institution that exists only to maintain political order. Once the politicization of the priorities of those institutions that have the legitimate use of violence occurs, than meaningless violence towards the innocent will be allowed if punishing it would impair the political functions of the state machinery. Flora Balkan is perhaps a symbol for the masses, their love of violence and power, their love for the undoing of their freedoms.
A very fine movie that requires some effort, but that is always actual - thanks to an interesting narration of human nature. The movie does have it's flaws and i the action is not as invigorated as one expects it to be after the first 15 minutes, neither is the camera work at the level it has to be for this movie to be the greatest ever but it is still a hell of a great movie.
Whether or not you agree with this movie's negative portrayal of state violence and of that primal attraction that violence has (explored in a marvelously Mediterranean style in this movie) for so many could make the difference in how much you are puzzled by the movie. If you see it a a satire of power and violence - it might work.
Authority, Order, Power, these are Law's three pillars. Law protects
citizens and defends them against crime. Law is made of values and
incarnated by men. Those men serve Law, serve citizens and the
mission's nobility lies on the fact that it applies to anyone. That's
the basis of democracy and the strength of Law. No one is above it.
Therefore, in a fair system, anyone can be theoretically suspect. But,
the weakness of Law is that it paradoxically implies the use of its
main dual medium : repression and punishment which are, after all, the
only way to protect the good citizens ... as potential victims. So
let's say to make it simpler that Law has two arms, one holding a
shield to protect the good citizens and the other holding a sword to
punish the bad ones.
One man, called Il Dottore, is holding the sword. He was the former Head of Homicide Squad and leads now the Political Bureau of the Italian Security Court. His speech in the beginning of the film, clearly announces him as a man with palpable fascist tendencies, although the overuse of the word 'fascist' kind of weakens its meaning. This man, incarnated by Gian Maria Volonte, exults the value of a powerful state above any consideration of individual rights. The state must be powerful, authoritarian and any ideas that threaten Law and Order, should be mercilessly fought. It's too simplistic to call this 'fascism', some would say fascism was born in Italy, which would explain that the ideas of a man like Il Dottore could be impregnated by a certain fascist vision but they'd be forgetting that Italy is also the country of Machiavelli, and the whole plot of this psychological political thriller could be considered as a deep, Machiavellian character study.
Il Dottore is fascist in his beliefs and Machiavelian in his acts, two contradictions that totally cancel each other out and makes him more of a very interesting pathological case of egomania. The man wants to prove that the very system that maintains Law and Order, Police and Justice, is flawed because it ensures the existence of citizens beyond suspicion. This man wants to denounce the main obstacle, the thing that makes his job ethically useless. The mission sounds noble... except that the way he chose to prove his point is the act of a maniac. A crime to denounce, to make the point he himself incarnates, that there are some citizens above suspicion. So high above this suspicion that they can leave clues to denounce themselves without never being worried. Because people believe in men who incarnate order. Power's aura seems more efficient than its use. Power relies on its own abuse.
And that's the theme of the film. What is power? Il Dottore incarnates it with such charisma and virile magnetism that whatever comes off his mouth sounds like the truth. If he says he's guilty, it can't be anything but irony or sarcasm. The simple thought that he could be guilty of the crime he committed sounds like a blasphemy. Indeed, the power is a deified notion. And like the power of God is perceived in our everyday life, the same goes for Law. Order is real, and can't be based on abstraction. The paradox is that an abstraction is not palpable enough to be respected. Fear of punishment controls people more than interests, as said Machiavelli. Therefore, it is no surprise that socialism is considered as an escapism from individual interests and therefore can understand only one language : repression. Il Dottore handles the questioning of the left-wing activists just as if he had personal reasons to fight them, because they're the most likely people to legitimate the use of repressive violence.
Indeed, it is personal. Jealousy, weakness, humiliation, power is represented by men, who are flawed. This is a brilliant character study of a man using power as an artifice to disguise his weaknesses. He's the Law but he's a citizen, he's power and he's powerless. His interactions with his victim totally deconstruct the character, and extinguish the aura and prestige he incarnates for his men. With this woman, his authority is like the toy the little boy proudly shows. Power allows him to run a red light or share some gross crime-related experiences, so voyeur it sounds childish. They're big children but they have the power. So, whom the power belongs to ? Women? Anarchists? Who's the leader? the system ? No, what leads the world is only human judgment ... The truth is in its appearance and this is what guides human perception.
Il Dottore denounces these fallacious perceptions in such an original way, we also can't believe this man has this status and is so respected, which makes us question the legitimacy of some our leaders ... after all, men are men, and behind every great man, there's a woman, and who really knows how these so-called great men behave with these women? Gian Maria Volonte gives us a hint through an extraordinary performance. In the cinematic world of character studies, Il Dottore is a living paradox highlighting our own weaknesses as men who believe in a system of powers, or our owns for the luckiest ones. His charisma makes him all the more pathetic in some key scenes and his pathos more admirable in some others. Elio Petri's investigation is a fascinating political thriller whose introspectively paranoid feeling is sublimated by Ennio Morricone's score.
"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" is an intelligent masterpiece denouncing the paradoxical nature of Law where the holders of the sword tend to fight those who hide themselves behind the shield while the shield protects only those who use the sword. Gian Maria Volonte is the soul of this contradiction.
Saw this film in New York at a revival. The tale of power and of
right-wing/fascist politics corrupting is shockingly timely even today,
this time of global conflict, with enemies branded "unpatriotic."
The movie portrays the moral corruption of Italian police and politics in the 1970's, with totalitarian tactics wrapped in patriotism. The movie's lead policeman is swept up in the power of position. Sadly, it's only too easy for me to believe his ability to use his position and power to manipulate people and place himself above "the law".
The movie "looks" Italian and 1970's, with stark concrete and flat colors, which appealed to me. The story builds well, jumping backwards to fill in details, to climax in an alternate possible ending, very believable. I highly recommend it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(Includes spoilers) Elio Petri made many trenchant political and social
satires. Among the best of these were "We Still Kill the Old Way,"
about a professor who fruitlessly and fatally takes on the Mafia; "The
Working Class Goes to Heaven," about the dehumanizing impact of factory
life on the individual; and "Todo Modo," a brutal attack on the
Christian-Democratic rule of post-war Italy. Petri was a member of the
Italian Communist Party.
In "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" he dissects corruption at different levels of Italian society. His main character is a police inspector who kills his mistress while they have sex. She acts out fantasies for him of famous crimes. "How will you kill me this time?" she asks. "I'll cut your throat," he says. A few minutes later he slices her throat with a razor.
She had taunted him for his sexual inadequacy, a condition which unnerves him, but what motivates him to commit the murder is the sense that as new head of political intelligence (coming from the homicide division) he can feel confident in being "above suspicion." He places deliberate and obvious clues everywhere. While holding himself above the law, however, he wants to test its effectiveness and actively takes part in the investigation.
At first the police focus on the dead woman's homosexual husband and then on an anarchist student with whom she is having an affair. The inspector comes to realize that the conviction of an innocent man will not guarantee his own immunity from the law. So he must concoct a test, which if his superiors deny it, will be the ultimate test of his power. "Investigation" is really a portrait of deranged right-wing fascistic power, with its easy enemies of gays and leftists.
Appearing almost completely unemotional beneath an often stormy exterior, Gian Maria Volonte' gives a stunning portrayal of a complex paranoid character entirely dedicated to upholding the law. Yet he is brazenly willing to use his authority for his own ends, logic be damned.
This film caused a furor in Italy because of its unflattering portrayal of the police. Its real strength lies in is psychological insight into the deranged quest for power: personal, sexual, political.
The movie won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1970.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto is probably the
most original detective story ever made, since the protagonist is, at
the same time, the only one who is really trying to solve the case AND
I have not spoiled anything: it happens right at the beginning. An Italian police inspector (Volonté) murders his lover and, in a sort of challenge towards the law, leaves many clues incriminating himself; while his colleagues investigate the case, he begins showing up where he isn't supposed to, mentioning details he should keep quiet about and, in general, trying to prove how a person in his position will always be sure of his impunity, regardless of what he does.
The social satire is bitterly effective. For example, there is a brilliant little scene between the protagonist and his chief. With fake naiveté the inspector admits he knew the victim, and asks the chief if he should mention it to the detectives following the case. There is a brief pause and then the chief, with a smug and vastly amused grin, lets the matter drop, shakes hand with the inspector and wishes him a good day. It's wonderfully subtle.
The best scene, however, has to be the interrogation of a seedy youth who suspects the protagonist but refuses to cooperate with the police. The contrast between the inspector's spoken words ("You are a democratic citizen! And I must respect you!") and his malevolent tone, body language and methods is spine-chilling.
Gian Maria Volonté, best known outside Italy as the villain in the first two movies of Leone's Dollar Trilogy, carries the movie with an exceptional performance. His inspector is probably one of the most despicable main characters ever seen; and yet, his mesmerizing portrayal captures our attention. He is a complex, crazed individual: loud-mouthed, sardonic and obnoxiously jovial in public, but secretly cold, creepy and reptilian. An Oscar-worthy turn.
"Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto" is one the best
films of Elio Petri. This great director used to make films with a
strong social content. This movie, which won an Oscar for the best
foreign language film in 1970, stars Gian Maria Volonté -one of Petri's
The story is about a fascist police boss, who accidentally kills his mistress during an erotic game. Fate wants him to lead the inquiry for this death. The policeman spreads everywhere clues for his guilt (!). He doesn't do that for justice, he only does this for proving to himself that he's untouchable.
Gian Maria Volonté performance is memorable -as usual... He was a big actor, he could change from one role to the other like an extraordinary chameleon. The film has a solid structure, it is satirical and cynical. The sarcasm towards the police boss is also supported by an excellent musical score by Ennio Morricone.
We miss films like this one, it's one of the examples of Italian masterpieces which aren't produced any more.
"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" is a Italian film released
in 1970 with an original, provocative and challengeable story about how
corruptive and deceivable some people might be and that those who
supposed to be on the right side of the law are more likely to do bad
In Elio Petri's film Gian Maria Volonté plays a chief of police in charge of the complex murder of a prostitute (played by Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan). Detail: He killed her and he left clues deliberately trying to get caught by his colleagues. The romantic involvement between the woman and the chief of police is presented in flashbacks, showing the crime's motivation. And along with the difficult (and you can even say ironic, funny) investigation there's Italy's political background during the 1970's since the chief of police is also trying to arrest many communists manifestants who are fighting against the new political establishment. Some of the characters and the movie's visual reminds of "Z", but this thriller is a little more soft and less complicated. Both are fascinating and must see movies of all time.
"Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion" is a powerful statement on hypocrisy and corporatism disguised as an investigation movie. The main character always poses as someone arrogant, who feels that he's the law and every people should respect him even his lover but she's more wise and tries to humiliate him all the time. Here's a guy who persecutes all the supposed enemies of the government claiming that the country needs to have a firm and solid moral structure free of communists, homosexuals, manifestants, and prostitutes but he's involved with one and killed her yet he wants to be arrested so that he can say that the law was respected. One thing is ironic and good about him is that he tries to frame someone as the possible murder of the woman but he always finds a way to make these people innocent, very fast.
A great accomplish by Gian Maria Volonte who played the chief of police brilliantly, with enormous qualities in a flawless performance. His character only demonstrates his desire to get caught, leaving clues, prints, but when he sees that his colleagues are not working very well he gets mad always trying to leave more and more clues.
Winner of the Academy Award of Best Foreign Film in 1971 and nominated for Best Screenplay in the following year, this movie was robbed an nomination for best music (composed by the exceptional Ennio Morricone), a great and thrilling piece of composition. One of those themes you can't easily forget. Great cinema from the 1970's. 10/10
This 1970s Italian political drama opens with a compelling murder live
show, a dapper man, Volonté (the head of homicide squad) artfully kills
his erotic mistress (Bolken) with a sharp blade, and what's befuddling
the viewers is after that, Volonté intentionally leaves many traces
which could be implicated to him at the scene of the crime, all the
more a face-to-face encounter with a witness when he leaves the
building. Naturally, one has to divine his motivation of his deviant
contrivances, but the film doesn't opt to give a straightforward answer
to the illogicality, instead it unwinds itself into a sociological
tirade aiming at the blazon compliance of the ruling power echelon,
Volonté has been promoted to a more authoritarian post,
politics-oriented, and the cover-up process degrades the whole
investigation into a farce, lushly recorded by the agile camera.
Arguably, this is Elio Petri's most famous film, an Oscar's BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM crowner, and won him 2 awards in CANNES that year, Petri may not occupy an international cachet so high as his Italian peers, but the film can potently justify his talent, it is an authentic gas, wonderfully designed camera-work with a great architectonic predilection, astute sense of unpicking the tacit phone-interception dirty business, a twitchy sensibility towards the rotten authorities, and upbraids an undeniable self-awareness of being politically-biased.
Volonté is tailor-made for the leading role, a typical male chauvinist, over-cocksure by appearance while underneath he is a man haunted by his impotence and jealousy (Bolken has mentioned a few times he is only a child which effectively irritates him), although ambiguous about the raison d'être of his act, Volonté is confident, menacing and impressive out of his common Spaghetti image. Bolken is billed as the co-lead, but mostly appears in flashback and the film has curtailed her character to a sexy trophy, a power-worshipper and a dispensable pawn whose stupidity overshadows her own demise, nevertheless she is a stunner in all her shots. The standout of the all-male supporting cast is Salvo Randone as an innocent plumber, who caves in poignantly in front of power, a bona-fide scene stealer.
Last but not the least is Ennio Morricone's score, the repeated motif has a synthesized rhythm, catchy and indelible, throughout the film, it renders the film a touch of ridicule and never leave any chance for the audiences to be bored by the doctrinal tone the film unintentionally betrays.
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