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Blu-ray: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Blu-ray: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

Elio Petri's political foray into the Italian absurd

Gian Maria Volontè in 'Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion' (1970)

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto) is Italian filmmaker Elio Petri’s dark 1970s satire on state corruption.

The narrative follows an unnamed, psychologically-distressed police chief who, after secretly committing a brutal crime, inserts himself into the ensuing investigation. He does so – he tells us – not to assure his innocence, but to verify his own conviction: that he is a citizen above suspicion.

Performing the role of that titular cittadino is Gian Maria Volontè (A Fistful of Dollars), and in him Indagine has its highlight, thanks to a masterful portrayal that elevates the film from conventional crime-satire to a complex, psychological drama. The eccentric police chief fashions a Kafkaesque absurdity for his subordinates, laying out a series of clues with the aim of pointing them towards his guilt, but from which each of them, in turn, is blinded by incompetence. As the events of the investigation then unfold, Petri’s Rome is engulfed within a febrile atmosphere of revolution, mirroring (and, in some of the events that comprise its climax, pre-empting) the turmoil that shook Italy during the period of the film’s direction. Left-wing, student protestors are pitted against a repressive police force embodied in Volontè’s chief. Tape-recordings, wire-tapping, underground bunkers – all these have their place within the film, which is complete with Petri’s over-the-shoulder cinematography, deploying covert shots from above, or snooping, probing camera-work.

All this gifts Indagine with the air of a classified historical document. In his archival interview with filmmaker Alexandre Astruc, included in this release, Petri confesses his desire to create a film that is accessible”. At a modern remove from these contexts, however, the film’s subtleties become hard to grasp. The unnamed chief seems at times to long for his own capture, while at others seems more assuredly bent towards the success of his deceit. This “doubleness”, or dual-motive, is intentional – Petri discusses it explicitly with Astruc – but it takes time to crystalise. Only through a series of flashbacks is the chief’s bipartite figure fully revealed: the one deified, self-aggrandising, enamoured by his own untouchable quality; the other, unwavering in his loyalty to the authoritarian power of the institution that his own actions threaten to undermine.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion coverPetri’s film is rightfully labelled a satire, but the success of its political scrutiny outweighs any comedic value. There are smirks to be had: the police forces are laughably unfit for their roles (even Volontè, in lieu of a moral compass, is appalled by the shambolic execution of the murder investigation). As the film progresses, however, these initially tense scenes become increasingly predictable, and the returns significantly diminish. Rather, the world of Indagine is a corrupt, macabre reality, one that is confirmed in Petri’s brilliant final scene (saving the best of his work till last). More specifically, it is a split ending: a protective mechanism, and a last-minute addition, required to excuse Petri’s cinematic critique from the genuine repressive tendencies within his contemporary Italian state.

As ever, Criterion brings to this 4K digital restoration a host of enticing extras. Accompanying the footage of Astruc, an interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni is particularly instructive, helpfully supplying the political and cinematic contexts it otherwise lacks – after watching it, Indagine is certainly worth a second viewing. Other gems include Music in His Blood, an interview with composer Ennio Morricone from 2010, exploring the making of his score, and the aptly named Investigation of a Citizen Named Volontè (2008), a 50-minute documentary focusing on the actor himself. Rounding out the set is Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker (2005), a 90-minute documentary on the director’s career, and a booklet featuring both an essay from film scholar Evan Calder Williams, and excerpts from a 2001 book by Indagine screenwriter, Ugo Pirro.


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