this month from the Criterion Collection is Elio Petri’s 1970 international
hit, Investigation of a Citizen Above
Suspicion, which won the Oscar that year for Best Foreign Language Film. It
stars Gian Maria Volonté, whom most Americans will recognize as the
heavy in two spaghetti westerns, A
Fistful of Dollars and For a Few
Dollars More, but this time clean-shaven and wearing a tailored suit. He is
sharp, handsome, and volatile—the perfect personality to portray a high-ranking
detective in Italy’s (then) corrupt police force.
politicized, Investigation uses sly
dark humor to make its point—that corruption has become so bad that an official
can commit murder but can still be above the law. Here, Volonté, who enjoys rather kinky sex with his mistress, decides to
kill her to prove he can get away with it under the very noses of his fellow
officers. In short, he is a mad, over-the-top narcissist whose fantasy is to be
coerced into confessing his “innocence.” It is a sly crime thriller with a nudge-nudge,
wink-wink jab in the ribs.
The world in the year 1970 was very
different than it is now. Revolution was everywhere, and it was hip to question
authority and rebel against conformity and complacency. Investigation is one of the many pictures from that era to attack
the “establishment”—and manage to be entertaining at the same time. The jury is
out on whether today’s audiences will find relevancy in the picture, but as I
tell my students in Film History, “always judge a film within the context of
when it was released.”
of the movie are definitely Volonté’s
performance, as well as the iconic Ennio Morricone score. In a recent interview
included as an extra on the disk, Morricone explains that his approach to the
music was to use unusual, “grotesque” instrumentation. The recurring, playfully
sardonic main theme perfectly captures the film’s mischievous stance.
The new 4k digital film restoration is
sharp and crystal clear, and the colors punch out in that singular 70s fashion.
An abundance of extras include an archival interview with director Petri, a
90-minute documentary on Petri’s career, an excellent 60-minute documentary
about actor Volonté, the interview with Morricone, and a booklet featuring an
essay by film scholar Evan Calder Williams and excerpts from a book by
co-screenwriter Ugo Pirro.
Recommended for aficionados of Italian
art house cinema, Investigation of a
Citizen Above Suspicion is a cult relic of the early 70s that begs for