Sunday, April 2, 2017

PROPERTY IS NO LONGER A THEFT: Elio Petri's 1973 dark comic gem makes its Blu-ray debut

The latest gift from Arrow Academy, this lesser-known (here in the USA) movie by Italian filmmaker Elio Petri -- a philosophical, political black comedy called PROPERTY IS NO LONGER A THEFT -- should quickly take its place as one of this noted filmmaker's better works, as well as one of his most unique. Made after his more popular movies, The 10th Victim and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, this one, so far as I know, was never released theatrically in the U.S.A, so its debut on home video is newsworthy and certainly a "must" for Petri buffs.

The movie tells the tale of a young bank clerk/accountant, oddly named Total (played by Flavio Bucci, shown below, in his first starring role), who has had a typically Italian upbringing -- the kind of hypocritical, patronizing parenting that, among other things, seems to have turned so many Italians, as the noted filmmaker Daniele Luchetti once explained to me, into anarchists. That was back in 2008, but clearly Signore Petri (shown at left) understood as much as early as 1973 when this original and prescient movie was released.

Total, who is literally allergic to money, addresses the audience at the beginning of the film by telling us, "Egoism is the fundamental sentiment of the religion of property. This situation is becoming intolerable, and I know many of you feel the same way." We then shift into a scene in the bank where Total works and see the bank's most successful client (a butcher played by co-star Ugo Tognazzi, below, left) make a huge deposit that suddenly turns into a robbery.

The manner in which the bank and the authorities handle this robbery, coupled to Total's own politics and philosophy and that of the butcher, who is a nasty, greedy piece of work whose own philosophy closely mirrors that of Donald Trump's -- this movie's Blu-ray/DVD debut could hardly be more timely -- leads to our Total's deciding to target the butcher and exact a very weird kind of revenge.

The remainder of this long (126 minutes) but succulent and bleakly entertaining movie offers up that revenge in a manner that is so encompassing and rich, as well as ever cognizant of the hypocrisy and denial built into humanity, that it eventually coils in on itself and crushes its own protagonist. But the journey is both bizarre and bubbly enough to carry us along quite easily. (The tour offered by the "protection service," above, is one of the highlights of the movie -- so redolent of wealth, power and our current "corporate" times as to take your breath away.)

The third important character here is Anita, the mistress of the butcher, played with a nice combination of fear, dread and utter understanding of a woman's place in this society by Daria Nicolodi (shown above and below, who was Dario Argento's oft-used leading lady). Petri, who co-wrote the film with Ugo Piro, allows each of his main characters to "explain" themselves during the course of the film, and Anita's explanation is a stunner, showing how very well she understands both herself and her situation. It's feminist and smart in so many ways, and yet Anita, of course, though she may understand things, still cannot control them.

Subsidiary characters include a shady police inspector, "drunk on power" (Orazio Orlando, above, left); a performer who doubles as a thief (the great Mario Scaccia); Total's whatever-works-for-me father (played by Salvo Randone, below, left); and a few others -- all of whom Petri uses to make his points about the society we lived in back then and that has only become more so down the decades since. By the finale you'll fully understand just how black a black comedy this one is -- as it makes nasty fun of everything from Marxism (our hero's family practices what he calls Mandrakian Marxism, as in Mandrake the Magician) to Capitalism, thievery, acting, and the very core of Italians and their society.

If the second hour's energy begins to flag a bit, hang on. There's a second wind coming.  Hang on also to watch the disc's special features, which include My Name is Total, a wonderful and nearly-present-day interview with star, Flavio Bucci, who rambles a lot but also fascinates and has plenty of interesting stuff to tell us. There are also a fine interview with producer Claudio Mancini, titled The Middle-Class Communist, and an interview with make-up artist Pierantonio Mecacci, The Best Man.

The Blu-ray transfer is first-rate, as well. I doubt this movie looked any better when it was projected on Italian screens back in the 1970s. From Arrow Films and distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group, the disc hit the streets this past Tuesday, March 28, and is available for purchase. I would hope that one could rent it somewhere, but so far, Netflix does not even make it available to be saved to your queue.

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