If there comes a time, in the two hours you (should) spent at BAM, watching Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano, that you find yourself unsure of who’s betraying whom, congratulations! Are you now feeling slightly betrayed and desperate, yourself? Even better! Granted, you likely aren’t a Sicilian separatist rebel Robin Hood, alternately aided, hired, and hunted by the police, the Mafia, the aristrocracy, the press and/or the carabinieri, but you’re on your way to achieving a state of paranoid helplessness close to that of the small-town mothers wailing as their sons are hauled away for crimes likely nothing other than birthplace and an age advanced enough to pull a trigger.
A folk hero of sorts, and the subject of a Mario Puzo novel and an opera, Salvatore Giuliano was a peasant who shot a checkpoint guard during World War II, then escaped to the mountains, and in his exile and banditry became all things to all men. For Rosi, happily, he became the nodal point for the forces swirling over and through wartime and post-war Sicily. And just as for the Powers that Be, for Rosi it isn’t Giuliano himself that’s important. Salvatore Giuliano, for which he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear in ’62, is a knotted thread of skirmishes, negotiations, and massacres, its chronological meanderings matter-of-factly narrated (of course; Rosi’s cowriter also co-wrote The Battle of Algiers). Salavtore never quite appears until death, which renders him a tangible symbol, hollow as ever—wasted youth, a people’s sacrifice, a dead boy with an aged mother weeping alongside, kissing his burly hand.