Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
The provocative Italian filmmaker Elio Petri’s most internationally acclaimed work is this remarkable, visceral, Oscar-winning thriller. Petri maintains a tricky balance between absurdity and realism in telling the Kafkaesque tale of a Roman police inspector (a commanding Gian Maria Volonté) investigating a heinous crime—which he himself committed. Both a compelling character study and a disturbing commentary on the draconian government crackdowns in Italy in the late 1960s and early ’70s, Petri’s kinetic portrait of surreal bureaucracy is a perversely pleasurable rendering of controlled chaos.
Having inexplicably gone unreleased on DVD in North America, Criterion brings Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion to DVD and Blu-ray in a new dual-format edition. Both the Blu-ray and DVD versions present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Taken from a new 4K restoration of the film, the film is given a fantastic 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The first dual-layer DVD enhances the standard definition transfer for widescreen televisions.
On both the DVD and the Blu-ray the transfer is an absolute marvel to look at. The Blu-ray looks impeccable, with crisp details, fantastic colours, rich blacks, and perfectly rendered film grain. Finer details—in clothing, close-ups on faces, and even in long shots of interiors and exteriors—are also sharply rendered and defined delivering a great sense of depth in the process.
The DVD’s transfer looks a little flat in comparison to the Blu-ray but its transfer is also very impressive and shares most of its pros. It’s sharp with some clearly rendered details, delivers excellent colour saturation and robust blacks. Compression is a bit of an issue in places but in all it also presents a clean transfer itself and looks pretty good upscaled.
The print shows a few minor blemishes but nothing big, just a couple of mild specs. In all the transfer, as presented on both the DVD and Blu-ray, is stunning, with a truly clean and filmic look.
The film is presented in 1-channel mono, Dolby Digital on the DVD and in lossless PCM on the Blu-ray. Ennio Morricone’s score sounds surprisingly robust on both, crisp and clean with outstanding fidelity and range. Unfortunately everything else in the track is flat and weak, particularly dialogue, which, like most Italian films at the time, was recorded during post-production. This ends up lending a detached feel to the dialogue but this is, in the end, an issue with the original recording and I doubt anything could be done about it. The transfer at least cleans up the audio nicely and there are no cases of cracks, pops, or noticeable damage.
Criterion’s supplements offer a decent primer on the director, starting with an interview with Elio Petri from an excerpt of a 1970 episode of Le journal du cinema. The interviewer, critic Alexandre Astruc, comes off as a bit of a gas bag here, but once you get past this Petri talks about his work, questions what everyone considers normal, and questions how other directors seem intent on making their films as inaccessible as possible, preferring his films to be the opposite. It runs 14-minutes.
On Investigation is a 24-minute interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni. After talking about Petri’s early career and work she delves into Investigation of a Citizen… and the political climate of the time, with the film seeming to predict certain events well in advance. She also talks about Volente’s performance, which conveys so much through movements and mannerisms, and then looks at the camera work, which offers a suggestion of surveillance. She also addresses the ending, which was constructed in such a way as to hopefully avoid possible censorship. As we learn throughout the features anything that appeared to criticize the police risked being banned, with Petri having to deal with this stuff before (another feature on this set points out an issue that came up in one of his previous films, where he was told to cut a scene simply for suggesting that the police could leave behind muddy footprints.) The disc sadly lacks in scholarly materials but I welcomed Zamboni’s insights on the film and Petri’s career and felt it was a good alternative to a commentary track.
Elio Petri: Notes about a Filmmaker is an 80-minute documentary about the director’s career and work. It steps through each of his films and features interviews with other filmmakers (like Bernardo Bertolucci and Robert Altman,) actors (including but not limited to Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, and Ursula Andress, who shares an anecdote about a bikini she had to wear in The 10th Victim that was far worse than the one in Dr. No,) and family and friends. It’s pretty standard for a documentary of its type, covering the usual talking points, but I enjoyed it and found it to be a strong introduction to the director.
Investigation of a Citizen Named Volente is a 55-minute documentary about actor Gian Maria Volente. Similar to the Petri documentary it goes through his career, covering his work (with a special focus on Investigation…, his most acclaimed role,) his personal life (including tragedies) and shares some rather special anecdotes, like how one of his performances blew away Ingmar Bergman. Unfortunately the documentary has an incredibly rough flow, feeling scattered and unfocussed, making it a bit of frustrating and somewhat dry overview of the man.
Music in His Blood is a 19-minute interview with composer Ennio Morricone who reflects on his work with Petri. Despite Petri’s insistence on only working with composers once (and even telling the composer that) they ended up working on six films together. Here Morricone talks specifically about the music in Investigation of a Citizen…, his intent with it, and the development of it, right from picking the appropriate instruments. A rather enjoyable interview, and it’s also an added treat seeing Morricone play a sample for us.
The disc then closes with two theatrical trailers, including the original Italian one followed by the dubbed American one.
The Blu-ray includes all of the supplements on the one disc while the DVD version spreads the supplements over the two dual-layer discs. The Petri and Zamboni interviews are on the first disc with the film and two theatrical trailers, with the remaining supplements on the second disc.
In the included booklet writer Evan Calder Williams then provides an essay on the film, its politics, and its themes, followed by an excerpt from Ugo Pirro’s book The Cinema of Our Lives, where he talks about the development of the story, drawing from the political climate and events around him. He points out how his story foresaw certain events, like the bombings that would take place while the film was being made, and talks a little about the ending and why they went the route they did.
The supplements as a whole are good, offering a strong introduction to the director and delivering a historical and political context.
I’m unsure as to why it took so long for this film to get a release but Criterion has done right by the film, packing it with a number of strong supplements and an absolutely incredible transfer. It comes with a very high recommendation.