When Politicians Are Too Big to Fail: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

09/27/2012 4:00 AM |

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
Directed by Elio Petri

As cheeky as its Pink Panther-esque Ennio Morricone score, this 1970 Italian satire starts at the apartment of a beautiful masochist, Augusta (Florinda Bolkan). “How are you going to kill me this time?” she asks her thin-lipped, cold-eyed lover (Gian Maria Volonté). “I’m going to slit your throat,” he says. And so he does, after which he methodically plants damning evidence against himself and then heads back to work—as a high-ranking cop. What the what?

A straw-man symbol of the soul-corroding effects of fascism, the Chief spends his time making false arrests, intimidating witnesses and lording it over the toadies in the cop shop—except when he’s bawling like a baby. Even when the Chief is solidly in charge, Volonté gives his machismo an undercurrent of hysteria that hints at the self-loathing and insecurity to which he’ll eventually confess. It’s a bravura performance, but the character still seems schematic, more an idea than an actual person.

The camera that director Elio Petri keeps thrusting in the Chief’s face feels intrusive, as we can’t imagine ourselves inside that serpentine skull no matter how hard we study it. But such a claustrophobic close-up is crucial to the success of the movie’s best scene, an extended shot of the sweat-drenched face of a terrified man who came to the station to turn in the Chief, realizes who he is, and starts scrambling to deny what he knows. It’s an intriguing way to dramatize an important question: can politicians, like banks, get too big to fail, so the system steps in to protect them regardless of what they have done? Or do some people—and, at times, whole nations—just get so dazzled by a charismatic leader that they’ll literally let him get away with murder?

Opens September 28