Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

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In a time of internal political disturbance, Roman police inspector Gian Maria Volontè (the bad guy in the spaghetti western classics A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More) gets a plum assignment to crack down on political dissidents. He then proceeds to slash the throat of married mistress Florinda Bolkan (Candy), a beautiful, kinky masochist. But as homicide cops swarm over the murder scene, guess who gets tapped to head the investigation? And, as every clue unearthed – most of them perversely planted by Volontè himself – leads right back to the corrupt inspector, the question becomes: is anyone going to do anything about it? Why has this “citizen above suspicion” committed a murder and then done everything in his power not to hide the crime, but to make it as obvious as possible? Can it be to prove that he, like all powerful men, is truly above the law? Director Elio Petri (The Tenth Victim) films the proceedings like a politicized Mario Bava, with bizarre camera angles, deep-focus cinematography and rapid editing that rockets back and forth between flashback and detection, all kept abuzz by the modernist twangs of composer Ennio Morricone, who contributes a score as memorable as his work for Sergio Leone. As the plot thickens, the film becomes a biting critique of Italian police methods and authoritarian repression, a psychological study of a budding crypto-fascist (and thanks to Volontè’s mesmerizing performance, this fashionable fascist in white linen suits proves simultaneously disgusting and appealing), a probing “why-dunnit” and a buildup to a startling, question-stamped finale. Troubling in its implications and thoroughly entertaining in its execution, the film won the Special Jury Prize and the International Critics’ Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, as well as that year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. (Dir. by Elio Petri, 1970, Italy, in Italian with subtitles, 112 mins., Not Rated) Digital