L’Assassino (1961)

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Interesting to watch this after Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion; in many ways seem polar opposites. Despite all efforts Alfredo is unable to escape suspicion. Yet both him and the tyrant of Petri’s later classic end up directing their anger towards (and thereby testifying against) a stultified system that promotes apathetic stasis, with neither the innocent nor the guilty getting what they deserve.

Released almost simultaneously with La Dolce Vita and La Notte. I think this is my favourite Mastroianni performance – less of the adult Holden Caulfield, less of the moneyed apathy, more up-close frustration and pent-up anger, pleading and insisting. A’s futility here is signalled early with the one-way mirror and the police’s delaying tactics, to which he can only respond with a jab and “you’re ill mannered.” The scenes in the cell with the drowned souls compress A into a torment that forms the film’s empathetic zenith.

“Everything from now on could be important to you”: A loses his human rhythm, his ability to define the contours of his own life – any memory or action can be elevated or dismissed according to the interests and narratives of his accusers. Playing with the top button on his coat – we see the processes of him internalising this unease (in the cell complaining of strange ideas entering his head). His very identity is not good enough (“this is the way I express myself!”)

Much of the film (pre-incarceration) feels like Bad Timing; unreliable recollections of a corruptive romance. Here instead of Roeg’s psychosexual entrapment, flamboyantly chaotic and unsympathetic leads, and alienating, impatient editing we have grounded and extroverted systemic observation. The focus is wide; Rome’s central squares and peripheral coastlines are both ravishing, with Petri content to let action play out against fine backdrops often seemingly for their own sake. This is a beautiful city, but its beauty has nothing to do with today’s humanity. (a strong sequence is the cavalcade of accusers, who seem to channel general and atmospheric grievance through their pointing fingers – everyone needs a scapegoat) The political stridency tides L’A over into more The Spy Who Came In From The Cold territory as A is whisked away and anticipates his interrogation like the poor victims of Rome, Open City.

The three jokes: A pretending his grandfather is being sought by the fascists; Antonella pretending she has told her husband about her affair with A; the rest of the film playing the joke of futile accusation on A.

Interesting themes of authority and empathy: the sense that truth is incidental, because the act of confession itself is more important than the crime confessed, is highly Catholic. The implications of the crime itself bleed out into general soul-searching through the flashbacks; one particularly notable being the brief and guilt-stricken hosting of his mother, whom he has abandoned in his grubbily plutolatrous adulthood (something about the dad in LDV, can’t even remember). In the end he is simply “a good boy” and off he goes.

Lacks the Morricone bombast and absurdist, feverish rage of Investigations, but is a good story that weaves its way through a beautiful town (in HD), and serves as an interesting comparison piece. Plus MM.



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