Criterion Challenge #228
1961 // Italy
Release: Feb 24, 2004
In the obituary published in Sight and Sound magazine shortly after the death of Francesco Rosi in January this year, the Italian director was described as the “Neapolitan portraitist of the Italian South and master of the cine-investigation”. This distinctively distinguished Rosi from the others “more wildly known” Italian directors, such as Rossellini, De Sica, Fellini and Visconti. And consequently it raises a question in my heart: “why Francesco Rosi and his films are not better known among moviegoers and cinephiles?” I’m not the right person to answer this question, up until today I have only watched one of his films. Maybe I even ask the wrong question at the beginning, probably due to my blissful ignorance, how could I know? But no matter what, the one Rosi’s film that I have watched, and revisited recently, is by all means a masterpiece.SALVATORE GIULIANO was initially entitled Sicilia 1943—1960, this shows that Rosi was actually interested in showing the city, at a specific period of time, later on much of his films would also focus on the Southern part of Italy. SALVATORE GIULIANO is one of Martin Scorsese top 10 films voted in the 2012 Sight and Sound Greatest Films of All Times Poll, the mezzogiorno origin (Southern part of Italy, including Sicily and Sardinia) certainly connects the directors together, same thing can be said in Francis Ford Coppola whose film GODFATHER (1972) made Sicily a household name worldwide. Yet Salvatore Giuliano, on one hand a robin hood, an independence fighter in the eyes of Sicilians, on the other hand an outlaw, a kidnapper claimed by the law enforcers, remains an unknown to people outsides Sicily. Rosi’s film made use of the name of this figure, his legacy and his work are continuously displaced in the film, however SALVATORE GIULIANO is by no means a traditional biopic one may expect to see in, like, GANDHI (1982) or Lincoln (2012). The screen time Salvatore Giuliano had in the film is to be a dead body very early on, and remain to be ‘the man behind the curtain’ throughout the film.
The physical distance to the title character was maintained meticulously. We first saw Salvatore Giuliano as a lying dead body, surrounded by a bunch of audience who we can only guess to be carabinieri or crime scene investigators. The details of the body (how was he positioned, what was in his pockets) were noted in detail. The reporters rushed in, and we cut to the first flashback in 1945, when the separatist demonstrations began. 5 July 1950 was the date of the alleged discovery of the body of Giuliano, which became the “present”, and throughout the film, there were intercuttings between the present and the past, which both were presented in their own chronological order in their own timeline. And at the end of the film, the past would meet the present, it showed how Giuliano was killed. And the present would continue to another death, very much reminiscent of the first shot in the film. Everything comes in full circle.
The film proceeded with the action of the guerrilla and the army at Montelepre in the “past” section, and the immediate aftermath of Giuliano’s death in the cemetery in the “present”. This juxtaposed the female’s cry between a tremendous scene when the wives rushed to their husbands who were being rounded up by the army (past), and the distraught Giuliano’s mother leaning over the dead body (present). Rosi once said in an interview: “I’ve always thought that if you want to look at problems and their dynamics in the social, economic and political context of a country, one of the ways is to look at characters that have represented that particular world, those that have actually determined it, or maybe they have been expelled from it” With the root of neorealism, Rosi portrayed the characters with a deep sense of knowledge and sympathy, every section of the film is a historical context one may get as close to the undeniable truth.
Francesco Rosi won the Best Director in 1962 Berlin International Film Festival with SALVATORE GIULIANO, and ever since it became Rosi most celebrated “film d’inchiesta” (cine-investigations). Its influence would carry on to several films that I am deeply in love with, for instance Gillo Pontecorvo’s THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (1966), which shared the same screenwriter Franco Solinas, and Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) which involved an investigation of the death of a politician. The entire film used only two professional actors, Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta) and Salvo Randone (President of the Court of Assize), others are nonprofessional actors. It was only 10 years since the death of Giuliano when the film was made, for the local people who involved as actors, it was simply reenactment. Cinematically, the investigation works were shown on the screen as the reporters interviewing the locals, or when the judge questioning the defendants and the witnesses. There was no truth foretold, but a recreation, a reality beyond the realism.
Film Score: 4.5/5
The supplements included in this 2-disc set DVD are enormous , the audio commentary by Peter Cowie is, as always, the gem of the collection. Not to mention the one hour documentary and interview. Francesco Rosi is a director who is severely underappreciated, these supplements are the great place to start with.