09 février 2007
Who Is Elio Petri?
It's not often nowadays that I discover a filmmaker not only whose work I haven't seen, but whom I've never even heard of, and rarer still that it leaves a major impression on me. As part of Film Forum's month-long Morricone series, I had the chance to see two films by Elio Petri, his 1970 Oscar winner Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, and A Quiet Place in the Country. Petri was a political Italian filmmaker of the '60s and '70s, but his work seems especially strong for the interior psychology of his leading men.
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion follows the chief homicide detective as he leads an investigation of his own killing of his mistress. The Inspector advances to a position cracking down on dissidents while still playing a major role in the investigation of the murder he committed. The Inspector deliberately leaves clues to pin himself as the killer, but in his official capacity uses his power to subvert their authenticity. It's a very smart film about fascism and power's coercive - and corrosive - effect on people both with and without it, and how systems of power become self-justifying.
A Quiet Place in the Country begins with one of my all-time favorite credit sequences, one that recalls Godard at his meta-artistic best. From there is becomes quite kinky, at least at the beginning, where consumerism fights with sadomasochism for center-stage. Vanessa Redgrave (!) is the dealer/lover of a major artist, who moves into a house haunted by a beautiful woman's ghost with whom he becomes obsessed.
Both films dive so deeply into their (anti-)hero's psyche that the film itself disconnects from the outside world, and both are highly recommended.
Some more Petri resources:
The program for The Films of Elio Petri at the Harvard Film Archive
The Boston Phoenix review of the HFA series
The site for the documentary Elio Petri... notes about an author, with comprehensive bio, filmography, and notes.