The Assassin (1961)

ELIO PETRI

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

Original Title: L’assassino

/, 1961. , , . Story by , Elio Petri, Screenplay by , , Tonino Guerra, Elio Petri. Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Italy’s strengthened economic power just over a decade after the end of World War II became fodder for artists looking to find the downside to such incredible expansion, among them Fellini’s cynical take on celebrity culture in La Dolce Vita, Antonioni’s exploration of the very discreet charm of the bourgeoisie in L’Avventura and, more or less, Elio Petri’s entire career of locating the hypocrisy and contradiction in Italian society beginning with this dark and somber drama.

, newly minted a star thank to the international success of Fellini’s hit, plays an antiques dealer who is visited at his apartment by a group of policemen who immediately drag him downtown. Putting him through a long evening of questions and provocations, they tell him that his sometimes lover and business partner has been murdered and he is the prime suspect.

He insists he didn’t do it, but as they poke into his activities on the night of the crime, they also question his life choices, his methods of doing business and his relationships with others in his life including his girlfriend and his mother. Eventually, the weight of this pressure and the shame of having been publicly accused in the media convince our hero to feel guilty about something if not the murder, while outside the walls of the police station everyone who ever met him in his life is thrilled with their connection to a scandal and can’t wait to give their surefire theories about his guilt.

Petri was always scathing in his commentary on corrupt social climbers who cannot be trusted with anything as sacred as law, and often married his relentless screeds with gorgeous visuals and strong performances. This one’s something of a dry run to sit through, however, and much of it is listless in its lecturing, thankfully the auteur would gain a great deal more humour in his later films and would earn his eventual expulsion from Italy through films that had much more fun inspiring the country’s anger.

Berlin Film Festival: In Competition

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