Elio Petri is one of those important auteurs who breathed politics into Italian cinema during its 2nd golden era and one who could broadly be compared in inclination to the likes of Antonioni, Scola, and Pasolini. His was also a productive life cut short prematurely due to cancer, who’d otherwise have gone on to make many more memorable films. An ardent left-winger, he was even a member of the communist party and participated in protests at an early age, once even getting dismissed from school for his activities. Even though he has worked across several genres, he has this propensity to portray some of his political convictions in typical ironic style, and with an air of urgency.
The 1970 crime drama, “Indagine su un Cittadino al di sopra di ogni Sospetto” [Eng. Title: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion] is one of his classics built in the style of a noire. It also deservedly won an Oscar for best foreign language film the following year, and a handful of David’s to boot. The film casts an extremely cynical view on how people in authority can get away with murder. But it is beautifully done though, and every aspect of the film production is exemplary, be it the screenplay, direction, cinematography, performances from the main actors, the editing, or the brilliant score from the ever prolific Ennio Morricone, it is a wonderful gem that one can watch and admire for hours. Here’s actually an interesting review of the film from British filmmaker Mike Hodges (Get Carter, Black Rainbow), who also throws in some interesting anecdotes for those interested. Needless to say, Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The film starts with Panunzio (brilliantly played by Gian Maria Volenté) murdering his lover, the already married Augusta in the most cold-blooded manner. He is meticulous, precise, and purposeful, getting back into his designer suit after cleaning himself up. Before leaving, he removes some evidence of his presence, but purposefully plants some that could incriminate him – he is the outgoing chief of the Homicide division, soon to take up the post of Police Commissioner of the political division. The police arrive, gather their clues, but quite simply couldn’t come to consider Panunzio as suspect – he is after all, a citizen totally above suspicion. So goes a brilliant piece of monologue from Panunzio, “…I have left clues everywhere… not to mislead the investigations… but to try to prove for myself… of my being above suspicion. But still, if this leads to an innocent being condemned, my being above suspicion will remain unproven..!” While this clearly smacks of cynicism for the way politics and sycophancy make men in power ‘untouchable’, there’s also a parallel drama running between Panunzio and Augusta through various flashbacks, with their kinky sessions, her infidelity, her apparent fascination for people in power and rampant promiscuity, and his deep anxiety to be taken seriously by her – in one passage of play, Augusta deliberately taunts him by calling him and his lovemaking ‘childish’. This leaves Panunzio in a predicament with a point or two to prove…