Film review by: Witney Seibold
He saunters into her apartment, smug grin on his face. She awaits him there, wearing very little, also smiling. “How are you going to kill me today?” she asks mischievously. “I’m going to cut your throat,” he replies. They make love. In the midst of this, he reaches up, grasps a blade, and does indeed cut her throat. She dies painfully. He gets up and waltzes around the room, touching things. He tramps in her blood to leave footprints. He steals her jewelry. He deliberately leaves evidence against himself. He then leaves the apartment to return to his job. He is the head of the police force’s homicide division.
This is the opening of Elio Perti’s film “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” the winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign-language Film in 1971, re-released in theaters September 29th. The film is darkly comic, morally ambiguous, and undeniably fascinating. It’s a brilliant treatise as to how people regard those in authority, almost in a 1984 fashion, as peerless soldiers of righteousness. It’s an essay on what someone is and what they do for a living can be inextricably linked. It’s perhaps a view that inner-circle backslapping, and behind-doors gladhanding can be the same as an intentional ring of iniquitous corruption. It’s a little difficult to pin down, as the antihero, played with wicked slimy glee by Gian Maria Volonté, also has terrifically violent mood swings.
The story follows the unnamed cop through his attempts to prove that he is, indeed, above suspicion. He snarls at people. He plays games. When the police point out that he was the only one whose prints they found at the murder scene, they are quick to add that he must have touched something during the initial investigation. He admits to a passer-by that he was indeed the murderer, and asks this man to take a piece of evidence to headquarters. When presenting the evidence at HQ, the man is introduced to the police chief… our hero. The passer-by backs off, knowing that the head of police couldn’t possibly be a murderer.
What is he getting at? I think that, bored with the local political violence that has been plaguing him (we get constant updates as to how many pro-Stalin slogans decorate the city), he wanted a throwback to the purity of a Crime of Passion. He is also flexing his sociopathic cynicism to a dangerous degree. He is a violent man (we see in flashbacks the death games he played with his mistress, played by Florinda Bolkan), and is now suffering in the consequences of who he is.
The film is a brilliant, funny, dark, disturbing, smart, manipulative, piece of work. It’s a blazingly obvious attack on petty neo-Fascist tyrants. Its moral ambiguity stands on the frontline of the American films of the 1970s. And with a twanging, almost comic score from Ennio Morricone, this is one not to be missed.