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Monday, January 20, 2014


Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Criterion Blu-ray Review

by Joshua Handler

Elio Petri's incendiary, energetic, and terrifying Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion finally arrives on DVD/Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.  This is a must-own edition for many reasons, the first being how great the film is.  Investigation was released in 1970 to massive acclaim, winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and being nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay the following year.  However, Investigation has sadly been forgotten since its release.  Hopefully, this release brings it the attention it deserves.

The film tells the story of a police inspector (Gian Maria Volonté) who commits a murder and plants clues to lead the police investigators back to him to see if he really is above the law.  This film had to have been an influence on Terry Gilliam's Brazil, as it takes on bureaucracy and fascism with a burning passion and surrealist sensibilities.  Investigation starts out based in realism, but slowly becomes more and more surreal as the story becomes more and more outrageous.

Many people associate foreign films with inaccessibility - they don't like the subtitles, they think they're not fun, or they think they're too pretentious.  Investigation proves this belief wrong.  Director Elio Petri said in an interview included on this disc that he didn't want his film to be "bourgeois", he wanted it to be completely accessible.  What's remarkable about Investigation is that it manages to be a complex political film that's also outrageously entertaining and accessible to any audience.  It's amazing to me that this movie hasn't been more popular in the U.S. than it has.  No one speaks of Investigation anymore even with all of the acclaim that it was met with during its initial release.  Few films are able to be successful with both critics and audiences, but this one is.

Gian Maria Volonté's commanding, charming, explosive lead performance matches the energy behind the camera.  Petri and Volonté seem to be in perfect sync.  Petri's dramatic use of the camera perfectly complements Volonté's larger-than-life performance.  In one scene, Volonté's police inspector is giving a speech to his colleagues.  "Our duty is to repress them [the citizens].  Repression is civilization!" he exclaims to a wild round of applause.  Petri films much of this scene in close-up, the camera rarely moving from Volonté's face.  Volonté is magnetic - he speaks in a frighteningly forceful, yet convincing manner, not unlike Mussolini.  We hang on his every word due to Volonté's power and Petri's insistence on making us watch him in close-up.  If ever there was a perfect director/star match-up, this is it.

The police inspector is a Mussolini-like figure.  He's above the law and, in a way, has the entire city under his thumb.  The film is a critique on the police and government of Italy at the time and this made Petri leave Italy briefly when the film was released since he was scared the government would go after him for making a film this critical.  

The special features on this disc give both historical context to the film and the people behind it.  There is an 80-minute documentary that, while a bit dry, is an interesting look into Elio Petri's career.  Petri died young and didn't make a large amount of films, but the ones he did make were acclaimed.  His biggest success worldwide was Investigation.  He also tried his hand at many genres.  When Petri hired legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Dollars Trilogy, Cinema Paradiso) to score his 1968 film A Quiet Place in the Country, he told Morricone that that film would be the first and last they do together since Petri never liked to use a composer more than once.  After that collaboration, however, Petri hired Morricone back for every film.  

Morricone's now-iconic Investigation score adds a kooky touch to the film utilizing "peasant" instruments as Morricone puts it in a fun 2010 interview included on the disc.  This score has a distinctly Morricone feel - a playfulness that makes it feel as if the film is teasing us in some way; like it has something up its sleeve.  

Also included on the disc is an interesting 50-minute documentary about Volonté, a trailer, and an insightful analysis of the film with with film scholar Camilla Zamboni.

Overall, this is a must-own Criterion edition.  Investigation looks absolutely stunning, it's loaded with special features, and is just a great movie.  This is one of the finest pieces of filmmaking I've had the pleasure of viewing in quite a while and am thrilled Criterion has released this beautiful-looking edition.  I hope that Investigation finally gets the recognition it deserves with this new release.

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