The Movie Waffler BluRay Review - <i>L'assassino</i> (1961) | The Movie Waffler

BluRay Review - L'assassino (1961)

A playboy is arrested on suspicion of murdering his lover.

Directed by: Elio Petri
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Micheline Presle, Cristina Gaioni, Salvo Randone, Andrera Checchi

Elio Petri’s state of the nation address in crime thriller clothing is a more than welcome rediscovery in this tip top 2k restoration. Shot in crisp stylish black and white by Woody Allen’s cinematographer of choice, Carlo Di Palma, and with a Mancini-like score from Piero Piccioni, together they combine to be effervescent and stylishly glossy, hiding a corrupted and decaying heart.
A simple enough premise hides a scathing indictment of post war Italy and its idle youth. When Nello Poletti (Mastroianni) is awoken by the police and unceremoniously bundled to the police station at the behest of Commissario Palumbo (Randone), we appear to be in by the numbers thriller territory. Poletti is accused of murdering his lover, Adalgisa (Presle), who also is the financial backer for his ailing antiquities business. Palumbo may have the nose of a bloodhound, but he seems more interested in slowly picking apart Poletti, destroying his sartorially immaculate facade. What starts as a police procedural becomes a battle of wills and ideology.
Poletti may be an unlikeable gigolo, who is by turns wheedling, conniving and amoral, but you are never certain if he is an actual murderer. Petri uses an interesting flashback structure to retell the events leading up to the fateful night. Neither crime scenes nor witnesses spark a reminiscence from Poletti. What is shown we take for the truth, however the accused's statement often differs from what we are seeing. Because of the subtlety of the direction and writing you are never certain if you are hearing the outright lies of an immoral sociopath or the vague elaboration and perceptions of a subjective account of the events.
Petri may be telling a serviceable crime story, but he is reaching for so much more. Mastroianni may be a slick playboy with nary a hair out of place, but there is a hint of the person he once was, visiting friends who are part of the communist party, - one near death and in need of financial assistance - ostensibly helping them by taking some old junk and a clock for 4000 lira, only to betray them and his former principles in one cut, by selling the aforementioned time piece for 150,000 Lira in the next scene. It is a key moment in the film, a post war generation no longer living under the shadow of Il Duce and no longer obligated to the Partisans and Communist movements that fought the tyranny of fascism, now embracing freedom and a sybaritic lifestyle, pleasure and enjoyment over obligation. It's an ideology that could make Poletti the ideological father of Berlusconi.
Italian pictures of the 60s have always had style to go with their subtext, and this is no exception. It may not have the oneiric touch of a Fellini (sharing only a leading man) or the vigorous neo-realism punch of Rossellini, but it does have a sense of masterful control. Fluid timelines and contradictory narratives may worm through this corrupt apple, but it never confuses, always engages and never overplays the subtext to the detriment of storytelling enjoyment. There are experienced directors who would kill for a film like this in their filmography. For a debut, it is a masterful work.
It has a few faults. Mastroianni is in truth a little long in the tooth for the role; a callow playboy in his 20s may be acceptable, but in his late 30s he may seem a touch too seedy and louche. Adalgisa is meant to be the older woman, but in reality only two years separated Micheline Presle from her leading man, but his performance is so strong as this most fastidious of charlatans that it hardly matters, and Presle is more than a match for him in their scenes together, more a willing participant in deception than just a weak willed sheep to be fleeced.
Elio Petri died young, so he never had the career longevity to put him in the pantheon of great Italian directors. That ommission is now being corrected and BluRay and DVD versions of his work are now becoming available from labels such as Criterion and Shameless. Arrow's presentation here is near flawless. Get on board the Petri renaissance with this debut; you won’t be disappointed.
As well as the aforementioned 2k transfer, which aside from the appearance of a hair in the gate in one scene is flawless, you also get uncompressed 2:0 sound. There's a nice 10 minute introduction to both the film and Petri from Pasquale Iannone, which is informative but awkwardly presented and looks like it was filmed via Skype. You also get a substantial vintage documentary on the screenwriter Tonino Guerra, which is definitely worth a watch.
Aside from that you get the reversible sleeve and booklet that is standard for Arrow, with writing from Camilla Zamboni and other reviews. Truth be told, not a bumper crop, but as many of the major players are no longer with us, a retrospective was always going to be a tricky prospect.