Elio Petri / Italy / 1970 / 112 mins
Imagine an episode of Columbo directed by Luis Buñuel where the dishevelled ‘tec never turns up (probably car trouble), leaving it to the killer’s own arrogance to run its course. You’ve gone some way to picturing Elio Petri’s 1970 Best Foreign Language Oscar winner.
The heart of this movie is power: political, sexual and personal. Gian Maria Volonté’s head of homicide (just promoted to chief of the political police) murders his mistress and plants clues to his own guilt, assured his colleagues will never arrest him because he is, as the title suggests, above suspicion.
Made at a time when Italy was in the greatest political turmoil since the days of Mussolini, with daily strikes and demonstrations, this is a (sometimes not very subtle) satire of the corruption and vested interests at the heart of Italian politics and society. What makes it work beyond this level is Petri’s almost psychedelic direction and Volonté’s astonishing performance – part Il Duce, part toddler with too little sleep.
Through flashbacks, we begin to understand that there’s more, or should that be less, to this murder than meets the eye. And the reveal of Volonté’s motive is probably Petri’s most successful brickbat hurled at the powers that be. The exhaustive ending both impresses and makes you realise there was a time when Oscar voters made genuinely brave decisions. Stylistically of course, this is a film of its time. But politically, there are clear parallels between then and now, with anger and idealism clashing with the forces of control – although hopefully the naïveté of waving Mao’s Little Red Book has long gone. If much of this film’s power has been diminished over the last 42 years, thanks to the sad fact that in some ways little has changed, Investigation, unlike so many other films that have walked away with golden statuettes, is still worth uncovering.
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