The Working Class Goes to Heaven
Gian Maria Volonté (A Fistful of Dollars), stars in one of provocative filmmaker Elio (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion) Petri's most politically charged films as factory worker Lulu: a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, following an accident at work. Too tired to sleep with his girlfriend, cut out of his son’s life by his ex, humiliated and disrespected, The Working Class Goes to Heaven is an oftentimes surreal and darkly comic look at the life of an everyday Italian trying to find a sense of purpose in a world where he is only allowed to be a tool for industry. A savage takedown of capitalism and industrial corruption, the film was recipient of the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or and features a gloriously unhinged, award-winning performance from Volonté, accompanied by an exceptional score by Ennio Morricone and stunning cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller (Deep Red).
Elio Petri’s previously hard to come by The Working Class Goes to Heaven comes to Blu-ray through the new boutique label Radiance Films and is presented on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a 2K restoration conducted in 2020 and scanned from a 35mm interpositive. Radiance performed colour correction using a 35mm release print for reference. The title is a UK exclusive release and locked to region B. North American viewers will require a player that can playback region B content to view. In the interest of full disclosure, I did do QC work on this release, focusing primarily on the technical functionality of the disc.
I’m happy to say that for their first title Radiance has delivered a gorgeous, film-like presentation that has been obtained through a thorough restoration and fantastic looking encode. Grain can get a bit heavy in places, however it’s rendered perfectly throughout and keeps a natural looking texture without coming off noisy or blocky. This then aids in delivering the finer details throughout the film, the more striking moments almost certain being those close-ups of Gian Maria Volenté with beads of sweat and/or filthy water dripping from his face. The encode also beautifully handles fog and snowy sequences perfectly, the gradients rendering cleanly without any banding or other artifacts appearing.
Colours lean warmer if not overly so, the white snow still looking perfectly white on screen. And even though the colour scheme for the film can be a bit drab it does feature a few bright pops of orange and blue with the latter looking bold in the darker scenes that are illuminated by a television screen. There are a couple of shots where it appears the shadows are crushed out a little bit, but outside of those few moments the black levels overall are solid with decent range in the shadows.
The restoration work has then removed just about all blemishes with only a handful of minor marks remaining scattered about, ones that you really have to look for to notice. Altogether the presentation looks great, the strong digital encode allowing the presentation to hold a clean photographic look throughout the film's running time.
The disc presents the film’s single-channel monaural Italian soundtrack in lossless PCM. Though volume levels are mixed well there is a notable flatness to the dialogue, almost certainly due to the dialogue being dubbed over. The soundtrack doesn’t sound to have been overprocessed at least, so it still sounds quite sharp and there is not distortion of note. Ennio Morricone’s score sounds fantastic and manages to show off a bit thanks to adequate levels of range and fidelity. I also don’t recall any pops, drops or cracks.
On top of the solid audio/video presentations Radiance has also thrown together a wonderful collection of new and archival supplements, starting it all off with a 6-minute interview with director Elio Petri filmed for French television in 1972. In it the director goes over the story and the character of Lulu (played by Volenté) and talks about how his aim was to push the “caricature” aspect and appropriately satirize his subject.
Despite the program being very brief the interview still wholly conveys what Petri was hoping to say with the film through the portrayal of its central character, and it is a very nice find. But an even more impressive find is a 35-minute television interview featuring actor Gian Maria Volenté, filmed in 1984 for French television. I believe he’s there in relation to the film The Death of Mario Ricci, although the interview ends up being a career retrospective covering some of his more notable films, including Plot, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Working Class Goes to Heaven, The Mattei Affair and Christ Stopped at Eboli (Volenté, in relation to the last film, mentioning the impact Carlo Levi’s novel had on him). The host even brings up Volenté’s “less serious” works—Spaghetti Westerns—asking him why he would bother with films like those and although Volenté admits he did some of those films because he needed the money, I do love that he made sure to point out that the Leone films (A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More) are considered classics by many. All around it’s an incredible interview.
The disc then features a newly edited interview with actor Corrado Solari cut from footage filmed in 2015. The 15-minute conversation finds the actor discussing Petri and the film’s star, describing the director as someone who had no ego about him before sharing a story around how Volenté was able to help him out financially. He also gets into the political climate of the time, the film being made during the period in Italy known as the “Years of Lead” (an era he refers to as “colourful”), and how this meant he had to “choose words carefully” when doing interviews around the film. It’s a lean, nicely edited discussion.
In a fun little addition filmmaker Alex Cox pops up to offer up an appreciation for actor Gian Maria Volenté. He notes that there isn’t a good biography around the actor, at least one that he’s aware of, so it’s hard to find information about him. Despite that he has dug up what he can and he looks over the actor's filmography, talking about his more famous roles and explaining what it was only he was able to bring to each one. He even pays especially good attention to his performance in Le cercle rouge (a film Cox doesn’t sound to be too fond of) and Working Class, calling Lulu a “hideous but interesting” character. It’s admittedly not all that in-depth, running only 10-minutes, but it puts the spotlight on an actor I feel has rarely received much attention, and the program has been passionately assembled by Cox.
Next, Matthew Kowalski has created a 20-minute video essay entitled Petri’s Praxis: Ideology and Cinema in Postwar Italy, which examines how his left-wing politics developed and morphed through the years (Stalinism shifting his views a bit, though not his “moral convictions”) and how they can be found in the themes of his films. It first covers his upbringing and background, even how he first started to work in the film industry, and then examines a number of his films starting with L’Assassino and then moving through His Days Are Numbered, The 10th Victim, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and more with a special focus on The Working Class Goes to Heaven. In the case of Working Class he talks about how the film depicts the factory and the various factions within it (workers, union, protesters, students, owners, etc.) and how Petri finds them all worth satirizing/criticizing in small ways. It’s a well put together essay that has been effectively edited. Interestingly, as an aside, when bringing up Volenté, Kowalski suggests the actor had been blacklisted for his political views up until appearing in A Fistful of Dollars, whereas Cox mentions in the previous feature this “blacklisting” story doesn’t appear to be true since Volenté had plenty of work prior.
At any rate, the release then pulls out one more archival program in the 2006 making-of The Working Class Goes to Heaven – Background to a Film Shot in Novara. Through interviews with extras on the film, factory workers, critics, academics, locals and more, the documentary covers the film’s production in Novara to an impressive extent for something made more than 30-years after the film, but the documentary is at its best when its covering events around a factory that sounds to have been important to the industrial infrastructure of the town. This factory, which is the one that served as backdrop for the film, was apparently running in the red for a long period and this fact was hidden thanks to “creative accounting.” It sounds like other questionable financial practices were being conducted leading to the "bubble" eventually bursting and shutting down the plant. That then led to protests and more, with the production coming in around the same time. That’s a very simplified summary but the documentary gets rather deep into all of it and I found it all just incredibly fascinating.
Things then close with the film’s original theatrical trailer (opening with a note about the condition of the materials but I don’t think it’s unexpected) and then a terrific 55-page booklet. The booklet packs in a lot of strong material starting with a very lengthy essay by Eugenio Renzi, who first relates the film to this period in Italy that I guess one could say was the tail end of the country’s “economic miracle” before examining Petri’s portrayals within the film. He also references other works where appropriate and breaks down sequences along the way. This is followed by another lengthy new essay, this one written by Roberto Curti and more-or-less focusing on the partnership between Petri and Volenté, starting with their first film together We Still Kill the Old Way. Francesco Rosi’s The Mattei Affair comes up as well since it ended up sharing the Grand Prix du Festival with Working Class and also starred Volenté, those two films then getting mentioned in a small excerpt from an article by Pascal Kané written for the November 1972 issue of Cahiers du cinema. The booklet then concludes with a reprint of a 1972 interview with Petri, translated from French, followed by a 1973 review for the film written by James Roy MacBean. It’s a beautifully put together booklet that perfectly closes off this wonderfully thought out set of extras, which aim to contextualize the film to the period of its release and where it sits in Petri’s filmography.
Radiance’s first release delivers a sharp looking presentation and a wealth of supplemental material that work to contextualize the film to its period. A nicely assembled edition.