November 2013, arsenal cinema

Elio Petri


"My school was the streets, the communist cells, the cinema, variety entertainment, the municipal library, the struggles of the unemployed, the detention cells, clashes with the police, the studios of artists of my age, the film clubs. And then I also learned from those who at the time were called 'professional revolutionaries'." That's how succinctly and precisely the Italian director, screenwriter, critic and intellectual, Elio Petri (1929 – 1982) described his personal, artistic and political points of reference. His working class background, his love of cinema, and of cinema as a popular art, his politicization and the revolts, the influence of painting as well as the debates with dogmatists of his time lead right to the center of the unique oeuvre of Elio Petri, one of the most important players in 1960s and 70s Italian cinema. Like no other, Petri was able in his acute examinations of post-war Italian society to combine politics and genre, Marx and pop, autobiography and analysis, experiment and narration. He thus created an unsettling cinema that often triggered controversy and whose energy, force and directness remains just as potent today. For a long time, Petri's oeuvre stood in the shadow of his contemporaries, such as Bertolucci, Pasolini or Bellocchio, and did not receive enough attention. It has long been time for rediscovery. On the occasion of the English publication of selected texts by Petri ("Writings on Cinema and Life", Contra Mundum Press, 2013), we present a comprehensive retrospective of his films featuring many guests. In conjunction with the Italian Culture Institute in Berlin.

INDAGINE SU UN CITTADINO AL DI SOPRA DI OGNI SOSPETTO (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, 1970, 6.11., Guests: Paola Petri and Rainer Hanshe, the publisher of "Elio Petri: Writings on Cinema and Life" & 16.11.) Murder as a test on power structures. Dottore (Gian Maria Volonté), a former head of the homicide squad who has climbed up the police hierarchy, carries out a cold-blooded murder, leaving behind a crime scene full of traces. He also spreads evidence of his involvement so as to test how untouchable he is in the police apparatus. Petri's Kafkaesque political thriller with satirical moments takes place at the beginning of the "Years of Lead", a period of dramatic socio-political conflict in Italy. Its inscrutable settlement with the state keepers of law and order positions itself within the political conflicts of the day but can also be read as a universal reflection on (the abuse of) power, dependence and arbitrariness.

ELIO PETRI … APPUNTI SU UN AUTORE (Elio Petri … Notes on an Author, Federico Bacci, Nicola Guarneri, Stefano Leone, 2005, 7.11., Guest: Paola Petri) A dense, illuminating portrait about Elio Petri in the mirror of his films and texts placed in the context of political and social circumstances in Italy and based upon detailed discussions with a number of Petri's contemporaries, comrades-in-arms, colleagues and admirers, e.g. Bernardo Bertolucci, Ursula Andress, Dante Ferretti, Ennio Morricone, Gillo Pontecorvo, Vanessa Redgrave and Robert Altman.

I GIORNI CONTATI (Numbered Days, 1962, 7. & 14.11., Guest: Rainer Hanshe) Petri's perhaps most personal film is based on an incident in the life of his father to whom he pays homage. It centers on Cesare (played by Salvo Randone, a regular among the actors Petri worked with), a widowed plumber in his mid-50s, who witnesses a man dying on a bus. Under the influence of this dramatic experience, Cesare quits his job and decides from then on to "live". The people around him do not understand, and Cesare himself soon becomes doubly disillusioned: Work and its power of endowing identity has lost all o its meaning for him, but his attempt to start a new life doesn't bring him the hoped-for new beginning. Apart from the clear neo-realistic appeal, I GIORNI CONTATI is a film of restraint, of concentration, from which Cesare's unsentimental journey through Rome acquires an emotional force.

LA CLASSE OPERAIA VA IN PARADISO (The Working Class Goes to Heaven, 1971, 8.11., Introduction by Bert Rebhandl & 21.11.) A furious polemic against industrial capitalism in the guise of an absurd (tragi-)comedy, of a story of political awakening and of a melodrama. Noise, chaos and nervousness define the film, as they do the life of Lulù Massa (Gian Maria Volonté), the best worker in the factory. For him productivity counts more than solidarity with colleagues, none of whom is a match on the conveyor belt - he is accordingly unpopular among the staff. When Lulù tries to increase the quotas even more, he injures his hand. He is left in the lurch by his superiors, and those around him avoid him. Lulù goes from being an exemplary worker to a strike leader.

L'ASSASSINO (The Assassin, 1961, 8. & 16.11.) For his feature film debut Petri chose the "giallo" genre, a particularly Italian variant of the thriller. The 30-year-old antiques dealer Martelli (Marcello Mastroianni) is suspected of having killed his wealthy, older mistress. He is arrested and subjected to an extensive interrogation by the crafty police inspector Palumbo (Salvo Randone). Petri uses flashbacks to reveal episodes of Martelli's life and outlines his different relationships, his working life, his opinions and his behavior. A picture of a scrupleless, selfish bon vivant who is accused of inhumanity above all becomes increasingly apparent. One of the most remarkable Italian debuts of the 1960s.

TODO MODO(1976, 9.11., Guest: Albert Buschmann) A satirical "giallo" as a Kammerspiel: Every year, Italy's ruling elite, business, church and politics VIPs, including the state president "M" (Gian Maria Volonté), meets in a secluded location. This time, the location is a monastery presided over by the priest Don Gaetano (Marcello Mastroianni). The country's pressing problems are not on the agenda; much more the honing of positions of power and networks. Then, as an epidemic takes over the country, bodies are also found behind the monastery walls. Petri's adaptation of a novel by Leonardo Sciascia sketches a disconcerting picture of conditions during the late "Years of Lead" in Italy. Allusions to Aldo Moro and his "historic compromise" are unmistakable – just a few years later they would be caught up by a fatal reality.

A CIASCUNO IL SUO (We Still Kill the Old Way, 1967, 9. & 17.11., Guest: Rainer Hanshe) Petri's first Sciascia adaptation follows the unauthorized investigation of the timid left-wing university professor Laurana (Gian Maria Volonté), who refuses to discount a double murder in his Sicilian hometown as an old-fashioned honor crime. On the trail of the real murderer and what appears to be a politically-motivated crime, Laurana gets caught up in a jungle of insider dealings which seem to involve most of the town's dignitaries. He also falls in love with one of the murdered men's wives. This is a film that holds its distance and largely observes, going far beyond its reference to the mafia (which is not mentioned once) and narrowing its gaze on the protagonist’s incapability to look reality in the eye.

UN TRANQUILLO POSTO DI CAMPAGNA(A Quiet Place in the Country, 1969, 10. & 17.11.) Petri's interest in 20th-century visual art is manifest in many of his films. Italian contemporary art and German expressionism left clear marks on his films, as did American Pop Art, which found a highly visible entrance into his experimental erotic ghost giallo A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY in the form of large-format paintings by American Pop Art artist Jim Dine. Fittingly, it's an artist (Franco Nero) who seeks the eponymous "quiet place in the country". However, what he had hoped would be an idyllic setting turns out to be a trigger for his hallucinations and obsessions. Petri embeds his precise portrait of the art world in a complex sound-noise-tone landscape composed by Ennio Morricone.

LA PROPRIETA NON E PIU UN FURTO (Property Is No Longer a Theft, 1973, 13. & 19.11.) Following INDAGINE … and LA CLASSE OPERAIA … this is the third, eccentric part of Petri's trilogy of "social neurosis" ignited by power, work, and in this case money. Total, a bank employee, becomes allergic to money - the negative impact of mammon on humanity disgusts him. He quits and becomes a thief of symbolic objects. He mainly has it in for a wealthy butcher and his possessions. Petri interrupts his fierce satire of the domination of money by having the actors of the film speak directly to the audience, in Brechtian manner.

BUONE NOTIZIE (Good News, 1979, 14. & 21.11.) There's not a sign of good news in Petri's last film, which is a bitter, black comedy about emptiness in the media-dominated era. The nameless protagonist spends whole days watching shocking news on several television screens in his office. This routine is broken when he meets an old friend who says he is in mortal danger. A pessimistic observation of Italy's "society of the spectacle" (Olaf Möller).

ROME ORE 11 (Rome, 11:00, Giuseppe de Santis, 1952, 20.11., Guest: Guido Kirsten) Petri's film career began with the research for this neo-realist classic, as did his long-lasting collaboration and friendship with his mentor De Santis. The film is based on real events and reconstructs the collapse of a staircase in which 200 young women were waiting to apply for one single position. The screenplay was based on extensive interviews that Petri conducted with women involved in the accident. (mg)

In conjunction with the Italian Cultural Institute, Berlin, Cinecittà and Contra Mundum Press.