Judge Daryl Loomis looks like a Swiss waiter.
It's an occupational disease.
Popular Italian cinema tends to focus on genre entries, with westerns, gialli, and horror dominating theaters, especially in the 1960s and 70s, often leaving the heavy stuff to the French, but when they go political, they go big. Whether that's Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers, Pier Paolo Pasolini's Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, or Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, these are barely concealed screeds against a government that hasn't always taken kindly to criticism. Investigation is a little bit different than the rest though because, where Pontecorvo and Pasolini were only interested in the message, Petri wanted to make a popular movie, too, one that would be seen by as wide an audience as possible. He succeeded, with the movie finally winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards that year. Now, it can be seen by an even wider audience as Criterion presents Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion on a stellar Blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
The unnamed Chief Inspector (Gian Maria Volonté, For a Few Dollars More) is an untouchable cop who lords over his department and whose work eradicating Communists, leftists, and dissidents from the streets has earned him an unprecedented level of freedom of action. It's gotten to the point that he thinks he might actually be above the law. So he runs a little test. After murdering his girlfriend and leaving prints everywhere in her apartment, calls it in and waits to see if they follow the obvious trail back to him. But they don't; they can't see what's right in front of them and they look everywhere else, even looking into political conspiracies. This pisses him off and he becomes increasingly desperate to be caught, but the system makes that next to impossible.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion isn't the greatest anti-cop movie ever made simply because its lead is a corrupted police officer. It's the best because of how pathetic Elio Petri makes the character look in his desperation, especially with the knowledge that despite his increasingly blatant attempts, the system isn't going to allow him to be caught. Torture a suspect in the case? No problem! Accept that he could be the killer? Not a chance.
This system lets Petri create a Kafka-like atmosphere in which the obvious is willfully swept under the rug in favor of the status quo. Petri sets the villainous corruption that allows this kind of activity next to the Chief Inspector ranting about dissidents and leftists in a truly fascist manner, showing him to be not only pathetic and corrupt, but a complete hypocrite on top of it. For him to so loudly advocate for total authority only to have nobody to oversee him is laughable but, unfortunately, is probably closer to the truth than we want to believe.
The more we learn about the Chief Investigator, the more disgusting he becomes. Through a series of flashbacks, we discover the torture fetish he and his victim shared, where he would act out scenes from the rapes and murders he investigates on her and make her pose for him in crime scene mockups. He's far from the most likeable protagonist you're likely to see, but Volonté's masterful performance makes him incredibly compelling to watch. He's brimming with rage and self-hatred and there's nothing about him that's sincere. He spends the whole movie performing, performing before the news cameras, performing in the bedroom, performing his routine by himself in the mirror. At the brilliant end of the movie, Volonté just explodes and it's fantastic, even though we all know perfectly well that it won't amount to anything.
In addition to his pointed political argument, Petri has made what would amount to a pretty good giallo, had he wanted to go that direction. Sure there's no mystery, but what it lacks in suspense it makes up for in the tightness and absurdity of the story. With all its fetishism, though, as well as the corruption and violence, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is a masterful piece of genre filmmaking as much as it is an excellent leftist screed against government corruption. Either way, there's no question that it's a great film, possibly the finest cop film to ever come out of Italy.
Criterion delivers another winner with their Blu-ray release. The brand new 4K restoration of the 1.85:1 image is next to perfect, brilliantly clear, richly detailed throughout the frame, and is equally good in both the widest shots and tightest close ups. It may not look new, but the movie looks better here than it ever has. Colors are strong and nicely saturated and there is essentially no dirt or damage to be found at any point. This is one of the top restorations I've seen in some time and it's a pleasure to watch. Understandably, the sound isn't going to be as breathtaking, but it's quite good in its own right. The lossless PCM mono mix is lacking much dynamic range, but it's entirely free from noise, leaving the great dialog and Morricone's iconic score to shine through.
We get a good slate of supplements to top it off.
• 15 minute excerpt from the French television program, Le journal du cinema, in which Petri discusses Investigation with critic Alexandre Astruc. It's a good interview that focuses on his influences and the ideas behind the film.
• New interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni, who speaks on the movie's contextual background and how Petri was viewed by his countrymen.
• Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker: An excellent feature length documentary from 2005 on the life and career of Elio Petri. It's filled with interviews from filmmakers such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Gillo Pontecorvo, Robert Altman, and many more. This is a fine piece of work.
• Investigation of a Citizen Named Volonté: Another excellent piece, this one is from 2008, runs an hour, and is on legendary actor and lead in Investigation, Gian Maria Volonté. This isn't quite as detailed as the previous piece, but it features many archival interviews with the actor and a large number of his friends and associates.
• Music in His Blood: A twenty minute interview with Ennio Morricone, who worked on six Petri productions, on his brilliant score and his working relationship with the director.
• Original English and Italian trailers.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is a phenomenal piece of work that is one of the first great movies of the 1970s. Equal parts political screed and giallo, it delivers both the leftist partisanship of the former with the lurid excitement of the latter without skimping on either. Volonté's performance is brilliant, as is Morricone's score, as, really, is everything about it. The outstanding Blu-ray to go along with it may make Criterion's Investigation my vote for release of the year.
The Italian government may be guilty, but this movie is free to go.
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