Elio Petri - Director

Nationality: Italian. Born: Eraclio Petri in Rome, 29 January 1929. Education: University of Rome. Career: Film critic for communist daily L'Unita , 1950s; scriptwriter and assistant director, through 1950s; directed first feature, 1961. Awards: Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, for Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion , 1970; Best Film ( ex aequo ), Cannes Festival, for The Working Class Goes to Paradise , 1972. Died: 1982.

Elio Petri (foreground)
Elio Petri (foreground)

Films as Director:


Nasce un campione (short) (+ co-sc)


I sette Contadini (short) (+ co-sc)


L'assassino ( The Lady Killer of Rome ) (+ co-sc)


I giorni contati (+ co-sc)


Il maestro di Vigevano


"Peccato nel pomeriggio" (Sin in the Afternoon) episode of Alta infedelta ( High Infidelity )


La decima vittima ( The Tenth Victim ) (+ co-sc)


A ciascuno il suo ( We Still Kill the Old Way ) (+ co-sc)


Un tranquillo posto di campagna ( A Quiet Place in the Country ) (+ co-sc)


Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospietto ( Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion ) (+ co-sc); "Documenti su Giuseppe Pinelli" episode of Ipotesi (+ co-sc)


La classe operaia va in paradiso ( The Working Class Goes to Heaven ; Lulu the Tool ) (+ co-sc)


La proprietà non è piú un furto (+ co-sc)


Todo modo (+ co-sc)


Le Mani sporche (for TV) (+ sc)


Le buone notizie (+ co-sc, pr)

Other Films:


Roma ore undici ( Rome Eleven O'Clock ) (De Santis) (co-sc)


Un marito per Anna Zaccheo ( A Husband for Anna ) (De Santis) (co-sc)


Giorni d'amore ( Days of Love ) (De Santis) (co-sc)


Uomini e lupi ( Men and Wolves ) (De Santis) (co-sc)


L'Uomo senza domenica (De Santis) (co-sc)


Cesta duga godinu dana ( La strada lunga un anno ) (De Santis) (co-sc)


La Garconnière (De Santis) (co-sc)


By PETRI: books—

L'assassino , Milan, n.d.

Roma ora undici , Rome and Milan, 1956.

Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra ogni sospetto , with Ugo Pirro, Rome, 1970.

By PETRI: articles—

Interview with G. Haustrate, in Cinéma (Paris), July/August 1972.

"Cinema Is Not for an Elite but for the Masses," an interview with Joan Mellen, in Cinéaste (New York), vol. 6, no. 1, 1973.

" Todo modo ," an interview with J. A. Gili, in Ecran (Paris), January 1977.

"L'Enfer selon Petri: bonnes nouvelles," an interview with A. Tournès and A. Tassone, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September/October 1980.

On PETRI: books—

Gili, Jean, Elio Petri , Nice, 1973.

Rossi, Alfredo, Elio Petri , Firenze, 1979.

Michalczyk, John J., The Italian Political Filmmakers , Cranbury, New Jersey, 1986.

On PETRI: articles—

MacBean, James in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1972 and Spring 1973.

Alemanno, R., "Da Rosi a Peteri todo modo dentro il contesto," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July/August 1976.

Roy, J., obituary, in Cinéma (Paris), January 1983.

Savioli, A., "I trent'anni di Elio Petri," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), October/December 1983.

Elio Petri Section of Jeune Cinéma (Paris), December 1983/January 1984.

Rausa, G., "Il grottesco del potere l'ironia della storia," in Segnocinema (Vicenza), vol. 4, January 1984.

Goffers, Eric, and Ivo de Kock, in Film en Televisie (Brussels), no. 430, March 1993.

Everschor, Franz, "Faszination mit Gewalt und Tod," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 47, 20 December 1994.

Sight and Sound (London), vol. 5, no. 10, October 1995.

Cineforum (Boldone), vol. 36, no. 351, January-February 1996.

* * *

In his brief career, Elio Petri became renowned as one of the major political filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s. He was also among the directors who achieved an international stature for the Italian cinema for the third time in its history. From his first feature, an original variation on the police thriller, he maintained a consistently high quality of style and poignant subject matter. Even with the bitterness, grotesqueness, and complexity of his films, many of them achieved a huge commercial success.

The Tenth Victim , for example, a stylized science-fiction collage of Americanisms that concentrates on the voracious rapport between a man (Marcello Mastroianni) and a woman (Ursula Andress), plays repeatedly on American television. Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion (which won the Oscar for best foreign film) and The Working Class Goes to Heaven have enjoyed continued success with contemporary audiences through repertory screenings and 16mm distribution. With Investigation , Petri wanted to make a film against the police and the mechanisms that guaranteed immunity to the servants of power, yet intended no precise political references. His claim was that the state manifests itself through the police. Like his earlier film, A ciascuno il suo , it opens with a murder committed by a police official (Gian Maria Volonté), but, because of his position and manipulation of the system, it remains a crime without punishment. The film brilliantly studies the psychopathology of power, whereas with his other enormous success, The Working Class Goes to Heaven , Petri wanted to return to what he considered was the real basis of Italian neorealism—a popular hero. Filmed in a factory whose director was serving a prison sentence, it investigates the reasons why a worker is driven to strike. Again the protagonist was played by Volonté (whose name in the film, Massa, means "the masses"). Although he is a highly individualized character, Petri continually stresses that his actions, thoughts, goals, and even his sexuality are determined by society and its rules.

Two common themes running throughout Petri's work have been the alienation of modern man and investigations of the socio-political relationships between an individual and his/her society. Petri usually employs a highly stylistic form which he often describes as expressionist. This is most obvious, for example, in Todo modo , aptly described as a celebration of death. Quite grotesque, the film was not well received in Italy, where, despite its extreme stylization, it was read as a precise analogy of the ruling political party.

Petri began his film career as a scriptwriter, most notably for Giuseppe De Santis's Rome Eleven O'Clock : Petri often stated that De Santis was his only mentor, and like him, Petri directed relatively few films, carefully chosen for content and precisely planned in style and detail. Filmmaking was, in his opinion, the most popular tool with which a culture could understand itself. Thus, he is considered not an artisan, but an auteur, a filmmaker who closely identified the filmmaking process with personal, social, moral, and political duties.

—Elaine Mancini

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