I Magliari

Cousins of Il Bidone (Fellini), cloth men, work the stuff in cheap rackets, back orders to the dead (Paper Moon), slip-and-fall carpets for the entranceway, Italians working in Germany (one slips off to Japan selling nylons as silk, to complete the Axis).

The German boss has a pretty wife who’s not above it all, one lives a flash sort of life.

In Hamburg there’s a rival set of operators to deal with, also Polish “gypsies”, motorcycle thugs, all sorted out with a merger and payoffs.

The life does not add up to enough for a young man pining for Tuscany.


Salvatore Giuliano

The very heavy bet is taken off the table at the start, and whittled down in the substantial flashback.

One of the most able, profound and expressive film techniques in all the cinema renders every surface of the drama to prove the image is within, anyway.

A strategic move for Sicilian independence during the war comes down to the mysterious collusion of mafiosi and banditti while the parliament sits in Rome. Successive measures against the hostile forces rise to military action and control with special units, finally policework leads to arrests.

The massacre of communists at a May Day rally is the main pivot.


Le mani sulla città

The building racket.

This is how it works, anytime, anywhere.

Cheaper than factories (“heart attacks” you get from them), immense profits on farmland or public land.

The builder on the city council, his line of bullshit, a political majority, closed sessions, a weak opposition, money flowing.

Rosi films the lost cause in Naples, coldly and plainly, it might just as well be London or Los Angeles.

And the builder as city councilman is also the building commissioner, all laws are contrived in the council chamber, Rome sends funds (it’s a good investment, support is returned for every lira).

Even an investigation that shifts power from the right to the center, following a building collapse, has no result in the council chamber, a prince of the Church blesses the work.


More Than a Miracle

A tale of Italy under Spanish rule. A fairy tale (C’Era una volta...), with Saint Joseph of Cupertino militant and triumphant.

Spanish prince, Italian peasant girl, the test of a wife, seven princesses to choose from.

Franscope and Metrocolor, articulate realism, a cumulatively magical effect in settings and costumes of the seventeenth century.

“A mess, a pointless comedy” (Bosley Crowther, New York Times).

Variety was perplexed (“pic’s fatal flaw...”), Time Out Film Guide in another way (“bizarre”).


Uomini contro

A really bad general, who wastes his troops to no purpose and so dreadfully the other side entreat them to stop killing themselves, so bad the enemy won’t kill him given the chance, so bad the capital punishment rate in his command rises to one in ten dead, so bad he orders the execution of a lieutenant who has a major shot on the spot for shooting his own men under fire, a general that bad is an enemy, or a critic.


Il caso Mattei

Evidence of character, practical benefits. A theory or two about his death, from credited sources.

Golden Palm with Petri.

Roger Greenspun (New York Times), “immensely honorable but unsuccessful”.

Don Druker (Chicago Reader), “a winner in every department.”

The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “fast-moving, impressionistic”.

Time Out, “astonishingly powerful”.

Clarke Fountain (Rovi), “Volonte carries this”.


Lucky Luciano

Rosi is saddled with this mafioso as head of the drug trade centered on Naples and recounts the American boobery and bribery that put him there, paralleling Don Vito Genovese with the Allies in 1944.

The hounds mainly chase their own tails but draw ever closer to the quarry, who abruptly drops dead at Naples Airport.

Business fronts channel the money, Luciano effects introductions at the racetrack, never touches a thing, the bosses in America have a solid partnership with the Italians.

Politics divides the issue, one party blames another, outs blame ins, Lucky lives a quiet life on top of a gigantic concern.


Cadaveri eccellenti

Illustrious corpses, dead excellencies, a string of judges assassinated by person or persons unknown.

A Roman police inspector has the case. The judiciary cries Mafia, who refute the charge “and you know it.” The Communist Party is an old friend who runs a newspaper one doesn’t read. “Youthful agitators” excite the fury of the head of state.

A beautiful line of reasoning finds a link to miscarriages of justice.

There is a counterrevolutionary complot, the last of the red herrings.

Thus a comfortable policier, in which everyone’s a suspect.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times could not follow it, “the art of so many people... lavishly spent on a knickknack.”

Variety found it too subtle, “lacks visceral excitement.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader) sees quite properly “a political exposé in the form of a detective thriller.”

Time Out (“an exploration of the mysteries of political power”) all but states the moral from Mao.


Cristo si è fermato a Eboli

Christ Stopped at Eboli, beyond that is the wild country of Lucania, something like Las Hurdes.

The strange tone achieved by Rosi is the prize of the film and the mystification of critics (“has to be counted a major disappointment,” says Time Out Film Guide).

Mussolini at war with Abyssinia sent Carlo Levi into internal exile, these are his memoirs.

Things are what they are, everyone says his piece, the representation speaks for itself. The dullness of Fascist Italy and the impermeability of the Lucanian contadini are readily apparent, with something of Levi’s mysterious character, in a sort of sequel to Buñuel’s documentary.


Dimenticare Palermo

The fantastical, foolish politician who looks so very sensible has taken it into his head that legalizing drugs would obliterate the Mafia in one fell swoop, and outlines a swift memo to this effect for his campaign entourage. Being a fantastic fool, he leaves his fortunes in their hands as he honeymoons in the old country, Sicily.

He’s running for Mayor of New York, where the tabloids say his plan to legalize pot has some support. In Palermo, the Mafia try to photograph him with a bimbo, and do succeed in having a murder charge brought against him.

The details of this are consistent and amusing, though he comes to a sad end. Rosi takes the occasion for fresh views of Palermo that cast the temper of the city in all its aspects and by way of Resnais in one brief sequence of up-angles from a horse-drawn carriage through ruins, with Morricone supplying a touch of music to match.

Rosi’s Palermo is no put-up job but amply beautiful and quotidian and sinister, even. His technique is so capable it affords a view of Mimi Rogers’ red hair filling one-half the screen in a reverse shot.

The satire proceeds from Port of New York and The French Connection, and is ultimately close to Power, Lumet’s film about politics. Nevertheless, it seems to have made no impression on the American public, not to mention the critics, which is an odd thing considering how very impressive and finely articulated it is.

There was a comedy in the West End that was rather like this in a strange, remote way. Alec McCowen (who had played the self-imagined Pope Hadrian VII) was a university research scientist who came up with a cure for the common cold, and the pharmaceutical industry would have none of it. Geoffrey Palmer and Penelope Wilton were in the cast, weekday matinee regulars came through the rain to be amused by it, Tishoo was the title.

Joss Ackland as the mafioso in Rosi’s film has to explain to the candidate that the economy depends on his trade. Of course, it depends on a lot of other things as well, even films, we are told.

The relaxed, natural and very witty performances of the London actors also spring to mind, somehow, in the same way that details like Rosi’s American embassy official or a small café subtly evoke Polanski’s Frantic with a characteristic nimbleness and lightness of touch, woven into the orchestration. New York is by now a known quantity to Italian directors, and his views are quite authentic.

Whither all this tends is a tableau out of Vigo or Lindsay Anderson rendered as pure surface like everything else, the politician resigned to his lot with a golden shovel at the groundbreaking ceremony (Le mani sulla città) for a rehabilitation center, taking care of the unemployed, as it were. Amongst the dignitaries he spies the mafioso, and hands the shovel to a bishop with a brief apology to the crowd. He and his wife walk rather proudly to their car, where he is shot and killed at long range. A rather steep price, as Hitchcock might be imagined saying, for a breach of political etiquette.


Diario napoletano

A complete look at Naples, the director’s birthplace.

The lens is provided by Le mani sulla città and Cadaveri eccellenti and Lucky Luciano (and the Italian silent, Last Days of Pompeii).

This is a masterpiece on the order of any you can name, Rosi resembles Marcel Ophuls on the track of a disaster, the modern city anywhere (even Bakersfield, California) a prey of long standing, historic and convenient.

Civic corruption and the mob are the only industries to speak of, the same people say the same things, Rosi records what anyone might have foreseen.


The Truce

Primo Levi, late of Auschwitz and heading back to Turin, follows an elderly clergyman into a Polish cathedral. The old man, kneeling at the altar, doesn’t know Italian, or French, or German. Levi addresses him in Latin, the chemist with university training, the clergyman looks up and, in Latin, replies, “you’re Jewish?”

The one great joke of the film.