We present directors whose output had or is having a key influence on the directions of world cinematography.
Elio Petri – The Great Unknown
Elio Petri (1929-1982) is one of the most original Italian filmmakers and one that has found the least recognition outside of his country among his peers.
A winner of an Academy Award, Palme d’Or, and many other international awards has been unjustly staying in the shadows of Fellini or Rossellini. Petri debuted in the early 1960s when Italian neorealism had already been a thing of the past and traumas of the Word War II were not as ubiquitous and instead they were being replaced by a belief that leftist movements were the best guarantee of a bright future. Born in Rome in a modest, working-class family, young Petri was expelled from the Collegio San Giuseppe de Merode led by priests and joined the Italian Communist Party.
When the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was brutally suppressed, Petri quit the party and devoted himself to filmmaking and writing. Due to his frequent participation in debates and manifestations in defence of civil rights, he was considered a political artist. The time has shown, however, that the films made such as: We Still Kill the Old Way (A ciascuno il suo, 1967, the award for best screenplay in Cannes), Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, 1970, an Academy Award), and The Working Class Goes to Heaven (La classe operaia va in paradiso, 1971, the Palme d’Or in Cannes) exceeded the times in which they were made and were universal in their subject matter and visionary in their form.
The first film to show Petri’s enormous, extraordinary plastic imagination and philosophical attitude towards the reality was The 10th Victim (La decima vittima) made in 1965 and based on a short story by Robert Sheckley. A brilliant combination of science-fiction and spy drama with Marcello Mastroianni, a platinum blond that is the victim of “The Hunt,” a huge and popular killing game. Two years later, Petri made We Still Kill the Old Way, which was the first film adaptation of a novel by a Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia. The main point of the film is a splendidly constructed criminal plot that is only a pretext to show operations of the Mafia’s structures, inaccessible for someone from the outside.
Elio Petri had great talent for adapting literary works for the screen. Thanks to his psychological and philosophical approach to the world combined with a skill of careful observation of everyday life, his films contain no literality. There’s space for fantasy, loose associations, stimulation of imagination, as well as room for profound reflexion and irony. The director tackled Sciascia’s works once more in 1976. Todo modo exposes the mechanisms of Christian democracy but thanks to Petri’s vision, it also has a much wider approach. Through ambiguity, psychedelic atmosphere, surrealism, and the use of symbols, the film shows the fatal connection and mutual dependence of the church and the state. Although Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) was the film to bring him an Oscar, Todo modo is the one that is unanimously acclaimed by critics as the filmmaker’s most exquisite and original film, showing his artistic strength in its entirety.
A cinematic retrospective of Elio Petri’s works has been made possible thanks to the collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute in Warsaw and its president Roberto Cincotta.