The Criterion Collection, at its very best, is more than just a home video entertainment brand. With the ability and the instant gravitas to make any and every film they see fit to release a film seemingly worthy of either discovery or re-evaluation, the brand of The Criterion Collection means more than just a new DVD and Blu-ray release of a certain film. Ostensibly introducing much of the world to films like People On Sunday or Chronicle Of A Summer, The Criterion Collection is at it yet again, not only releasing a film seemingly forgotten despite being an Oscar winning foreign language picture, but giving it as dense a release as you’re bound to see.
Entitled Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, the film is now available in a beautiful dual format release via Criterion, and is more than worthy of the aforementioned re-evaluation, or if you’re like me, a first time introduction. From director Elio Petri (and likely the director’s most well loved picture), this seemingly Kafka-influenced (look at the final shot here to see this influence verbalized) noir tells the tale of a Roman police inspector who, after slicing the throat of his mistress, attempts to try and “solve” the case in which he is the criminal. A breathlessly crafted, icy cold, meditation on the ability of perceived absolute power corrupting absolutely, Petri’s film is a lively and unforgettable crime story capped off by one of the great Ennio Morricone’s most esoteric and haunting bits of music.
On first glance, it’s hard to not find star Gian Maria Volonte as the film’s biggest take away. Best known for his turn as the bad guy in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, Volonte is breathtaking here. Oozing a sense of charisma that turns his percussive performance into something truly remarkable, the performance is superficially impossible to take your eyes off of. However, when digging deeply into what happens to his character, and how stunning Volonte is at truly getting at the character’s mental de-evolution turns this into a career-defining performance. Starting off as a man so taken over by his sense of absolute, God-like, power, to see the final handful of sequences is to see a man completely regress into something purely antithetical to where he began. A startling lead performance that both commands respect and demands discussion, this is Volonte at the absolute height of his powers.
And speaking of being at the height of his powers, filmmaker Petri, if this is his most revered work, he’s a director deserving of much more discussion and reverence. Getting some beautiful photography from cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller, the film feels very much of its time, but with a timeless sense of vitality and percussive energy. Oddly comparable to a film like Bava’s Five Dolls For An August Moon, the film feels, and this is also thanks to Morricone’s oddly entertaining score, like a bit of pop art neo-noir. Carrying with it a fever-dream sense of pacing and energy, Petri’s direction is full of life and often times says as much about the narrative or our lead character as the performances or screenplay ever could. Be it the chaotic opening crime scene investigation or the isolating and oppressive final act, the film is as entrancing aesthetically as it is intellectually, and for that balance, the film becomes something more than just a great motion picture.
Now, while it’s an Oscar winning film and features a score from arguably one of cinema’s greatest and most beloved composers, many cinephiles either haven’t seen the film, or just didn’t see the Criterion Collection release coming. That said, it may be one of the company’s most interesting releases all year. A gorgeous dual format release (I mean, this thing even has a design on the interior of its case), the film features some fantastic artwork from Fred Davis, and a new 4k restoration that is both visually breathtaking and audibly entrancing. There is an archival interview with Petri that is insightful, and Petri’s career becomes the central focus for much of this release, especially a feature length documentary Elio Petri: Notes About A Filmmaker. A director that this writer only knew about in passing, this documentary is absolutely fascinating and a must-watch for those who find this superb noir to be the groundbreaking bit of work that it truly is. Toss in lengthy documentaries on both star Volonte and composer Morricone, and an interview with scholar Camilla Zamboni, and you have a film and a release that are as intriguing as we’ve seen come through the ranks of The Criterion Collection all year. The definition of what a Criterion Collection release can do for a film and a filmmaker, this should hopefully open the floodgates for more films from Petri to get their day in the spotlight. Here’s to hoping.