Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970)

Director: Elio Petri
Cast:  Gian Maria VolontéFlorinda Bolkan, Gianni Santuccio
Plot: A chief of detectives, homicide section, kills his mistress and deliberately leaves clues to prove his own responsibility for the crime.

Genre: Crime/Drama
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Film, Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay. Won Grand Jury Prize and FIPRESCI Prize (Cannes).
Runtime: 112min
Rating: NC16 for some nudity.


A cinephile who comes across a film title as curiously long as Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion would surely raise an eyebrow. And that raised eyebrow is likely to lead him or her to find out more about the film.

My entry point to this acclaimed Italian film was through Ennio Morricone's music, and after discovering that the film won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Feature, it became difficult to resist the opportunity to catch a screening of it at the National Museum of Singapore as part of its  highly-regarded World Cinema Series.

Directed by Elio Petri, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is a socio-political film that is smart, but never too smart for the audience. With an intriguing premise - the Chief of the Homicide Division of the Italian Police Force murders his mistress and intentionally gives away clues to his crime - that hooks you from the start, the film is engaging for the reason that we have a burning desire to know how this dastardly scheme will play out. Stick in some strong elements of political satire, and we get a film that is as compelling as Costa Gavras' Z (1969), only funnier.

The Chief, played by Gian Maria Volonte, has the sole motivation of learning whether he is too powerful an authoritative figure to even be considered a murder suspect. Volonte gives a commanding performance, one of the best of his career.

His co-star  Florinda Bolkan, who plays the mistress, is seductive and likes powerful men. Volonte and Bolkan strike up an excellent chemistry, and despite the latter being murdered in the opening sequence, we see quite a lot of them in the numerous flashbacks that punctuate the main narrative.

Petri's film may move at a relatively slow pace, but his camera feels urgent, as if trying to imitate a thriller. But a thriller this is not. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion has a far more important obligation to fulfil: To critically comment on the perils of giving people too much power and its political implications on social dynamics and stability.

With a surprising climax that is satisfying in execution, the film ends with a haunting final shot that visually draws a provocative parallel between government authority and the Mafia.

Verdict: Beneath its intriguing premise lies a sinister yet compelling socio-political film about authority masquerading as democracy.


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