Director-In-Focus: Francesco Rosi

Francesco Rosi’s trio of films The Mattei Affair (1972), Lucky Luciano (1973) and Illustrious Corpses (1976) are often cited as landmark European political films of the 1970s. Coming to prominence in the early 1960s with Salvatore Giuliano (1962) and Hands over the City (1963), Rosi would become one of Italy’s most prominent filmmakers throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. He is particularly associated with a style of film known as cine-inchieste, or film investigation, an approach that he would make his own during the 1970s.

Winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes film festival, The Mattei Affair is an ambitious work offering both an investigation into the death of industrialist Enrico Mattei and images of Rosi and his collaborators working on the film. The latter aspect was inspired by the disappearance (and presumed death) of Mauro De Mauro. Known as the ‘inconvenient journalist’ due to his investigative reporting, De Mauro worked for the Palermo-based newspaper L’Ora and had been undertaking some research for Rosi’s project before he vanished. Ultimately, The Mattei Affair is a challenging film that asks audiences to think about the complex links between international business interests, organised crime and political corruption. Another of Rosi’s frequent collaborators, the actor Gian Maria Volonté, gives an impressive, committed performance as Mattei and would go on to play another key role for Rosi in his next political drama Lucky Luciano.

Lucky Luciano is an ambitious film that once again explores the international links between organised crime, politicians and big business. Here that focuses on the influence of the Mafia on both sides of the Atlantic. Avoiding many of the violent trappings of the genre of the gangster film, Lucky Luciano privileges Rosi’s desire to expose the ways in which criminality is intertwined in a number of society’s institutions and how global economic networks assist in the expansion and sustenance of such corruption. According to The Guardian, novelist Norman Mailer called Lucky Luciano, ‘the finest movie yet made about the mafia, the most thoughtful, the truest and most sensitive to the paradoxes of a society of crime’.

Adapted from Leonardo Sciascia’s novel Il contesto (Equal Danger), Rosi’s Illustrious Corpses is undoubtedly one of the highpoints of the cycle of political thrillers made in Europe during the 1970s. Like Rosi’s films, Sciascia’s novels had continually returned to the subject of the Mafia and its corrupting influence on (particularly Southern) Italian life and politics. One of the director’s most stylish films, shot by his regular cinematographer Pasqualino De Santis, Illustrious Corpses follows a detective as he investigates the deaths of a number of high profile judges. Once again Rosi is able to centre his film on a powerful, nuanced performance, here from Lino Ventura as the detective, ably supported by Max von Sydow, Fernando Rey and Charles Vanel.

Rosi would continue to be a major figure in the Italian film industry after the 1970s, making a number of critically acclaimed literary adaptations including Christ Stopped at Eboli (1979), Three Brothers (1981) Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1987), but perhaps never quite reached the high points represented by his work on The Mattei Affair and Illustrious Corpses.

The Mattei Affair screened as part of our States of Danger & Deceit: European Political Thrillers of the 1970s film season.

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