Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970) is, on the surface, a thriller that depicts a powerful police inspector (Gian Maria Volonte, A Fistful of Dollars) and how this power has affected his moral compass. In the film's opening moments, our unnamed inspector commits a heinous crime: the murder of Augusta Terzi (Florinda Bolkan), his beautiful young mistress. Leaving a trail of clues that will undoubtedly lead his own homicide division to the culprit, the inspector confirms that his position of authority has virtually erased any potential links to the crime. The sole exception is one potential eyewitness: Terzi's neighbor, a handsome young activist who sees him leaving the murder scene...and the inspector's recent promotion to a political crimes unit ensures that their paths will cross again. As our story unfolds, a handful of brief flashbacks deepen the relationship between murderer and victim before the crime occurred.
Punctuated by a last-minute fever dream, the final stretch of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion develops a more blatant political slant that, within the context of the story, feels like a perfect fit. Petri's film continually teases the viewer with an unorthodox structure...but during this supremely important third act, the tension mounts to almost unbearable heights as our central character attempts (valiantly, if that's possible) to publicly announce his guilt. He's by no means painted in a sympathetic light, but the film's restless swipes at "men of power" almost make us forget that he killed someone in cold blood. Though he's been guilty of the crime all along, the actual guilt has finally overtaken him.
Obvious factors contribute to the film's winning formula; first and foremost is Gian Maria Volonte's performance as our nameless central character. His commanding presence suits such an authoritative figure: it's not long before we find ourselves buying what he's selling, for better or worse. Florinda Bolkan also shines as the beautiful Augusta Terzi, who---like her murderer---gradually reveals her true nature as the flashbacks unfold. Together, the doomed couple is anything but silent and all the better for it, as the film's razor-sharp dialogue effortlessly leads first-time viewers around by the ears. Ennio Morricone's mischievous score is another aural highlight, reminding us that Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion knows exactly when to take itself seriously. And, perhaps more importantly, exactly when not to.
Despite being awarded the 1970 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion has remained relatively obscure on Region 1 home video. Never released domestically on VHS (or DVD, until now), Elio Petri's most famous film has been given the royal treatment by Criterion as a three-disc "Dual-Format" edition, which includes one Blu-ray and two DVDs. Pairing an excellent A/V presentation (sourced from a recent 4K restoration) with a nice assortment of bonus features available on both formats, this is a well-rounded and accessible package.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Using a recent 4K restoration by Colorworks, Criterion presents Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion in a beautiful new 1080p transfer that preserves the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Grain structure and image detail are uniformly excellent from start to finish, the film's natural color palette looks terrific and no obvious digital imperfections were spotted along the way. Black levels and contrast are also consistently strong, especially during many of the dimly-lit interior scenes. Overall, this is another top-tier effort from the studio and a demo disc for classic film enthusiasts.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Though limited in fidelity, the Italian PCM 1.0 audio track does what it can with this source material. Dialogue is extremely clear and easy to follow, music cues are surprisingly strong and neither one seems to fight for attention very often. No obvious hiss, clicks or other audio anomalies were detected along the way, rounding out the technical presentation quite nicely. Optional English subtitles are included for full dialogue and partial credit translation only.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Presented in Criterion's typical style for both formats, the menus load quickly and are easy to navigate and understand. Like the studio's recent dual-format release of Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story
, this three-disc release is housed in a handsome digipak case with overlapping spindles for the DVDs and standard placement for the Blu-ray. A detailed Booklet
is also tucked inside, featuring an essay by film scholar Evan Calder Williams and excerpts from a 2001 book by screenwriter Ugo Pirro. The attractive new cover artwork by Fred Davis continues throughout the packaging interior.
Just about everything you'd want, aside from an audio commentary. The supplements are captained by "Elio Petri: Notes About a Filmmaker"
, a terrific feature-length 2005 documentary about the director. It's loaded with testimonials from his colleagues and influences including Robert Altman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ennio Morricone, Florinda Bolkan and many more. Focusing largely on his personal life and film career, it's a thoughtful and informative production that die-hard fans will appreciate. On a related note is a 1970 French Television Excerpt
from "Le Journal du Cinema", in which interviewer and critic Alexandre Astruc chats with Petri about Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
's production and themes.
Other cast and crew members get some attention as well. "Investigation of a Citizen Named Volonte", like "Notes About a Filmmaker", focuses on the life and career of actor Gian Maria Volonte and includes a handful of testimonies from his colleagues and contemporaries. A slightly newer 2010 interview entitled "Music in His Blood" features composer Ennio Morricone's comments on his work for the film. Taking another step back, "On Investigation" is a new interview with film scholar Camilla Zamboni, who discusses the film's social impact, initial development and some additional background of the key cast members. Though a little too short for its own good, this 25-minute chat is definitely worth a look.
Finally, we get two vintage Trailers for the film; one in Italian, the other in English. All foreign-language supplements (which means everything, except for "On Investigation") include optional English subtitles for translation purposes only.
Gripping, well-acted and consistently engaging, Elio Petri's Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion remains fresh and vibrant more than 40 years after its original release. The film's compelling structure and wonderful twists will keep first-time viewers guessing, while those who have already seen and enjoyed the film can still marvel at its unique style, mischievous Morricone score and Gian Maria Volonte's commanding presence. Criterion's dual-format release marks the film's Region A/1 debut and gets it right the first time, pairing a terrific A/V presentation with a handful of entertaining, informative bonus features. For obvious reasons, foreign film lovers should consider this one Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.