Friday, 22 June 2007

Thoughts inspired by Roma Violenta

I watched the poliziotto Roma Violenta last night. I thoroughly enjoyed it for the most part, for its no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach and the perhaps dubious enthusiasm which Maurizio Merli always seems to bring to the Inspector Betti role. I did feel it flagged a bit towards the end compared to, say, Napoli Violenta, perhaps because there was no strongly personified antagonist for Betti's crusade against crime in general. Admittedly this is maybe a good thing ideologically – i.e. the traditionally Hollywood good guys / bad guys, let's clean up this town notions are problematised – and it certainly helps in conveying the sense of a society falling apart.

What the film also made me wonder about, in combination with the various other poliziotto I've seen over the past few years is whether Mikel Koven's vernacular cinema thesis, that there are certain films which have no aspirations towards art and should be read for their social value for their target audience, might be better applied to the poliziotto than the giallo.

What I mean is that I've seen plenty of gialli that I feel run counter to Koven's thesis in consciously aspiring to art to a greater or lesser degree, but all the Italian cop films I've seen have been straightforward entertainments with a functional – and generally effective – mise-en-scene, relatively simple narratives and characterisations and plenty of “attractions” and emotional pay-offs. The one exception would be Ricky Tognazzi's La Scorta, which is a later film, with a different social / political context, and one I'm not sure even fits into the genre / filone.

So, for those who know more about the Italian cop film than I do, were there any more obviously aspirational, less vernacular films? Those of Fernando Di Leo, perhaps? Is / was there a distinction in the labels and descriptions used, so that a filmmaker like Umberto Lenzi made poliziotto whilst his art-house counterparts made contemporary set political dramas that just happened to feature police protagonists? And what would be some examples of the art-house / crossover cop film if such exist?


luca canali said...

the films of fernando di leo seem to be the ones you're looking for. especially his 'milieu trilogy' - 'milano calibro 9', 'la mala ordina' and 'il boss' - but also films like 'il poliziotto è marcio', 'la città sconvolta', in a way 'colpo in canna' for presenting a woman in a typical man's role. not to forget 'uomini si nasce, poliziotti si muore' which he wrote the screenplay for. di leo always was political, by being less obvious than damiani or rosi even more so. you should check the dvds by raro video, they have great extra features with english subtitles.
other 'crossover' films were made by sergio martino, like 'milano trema' or 'la polizia accusa - il servizio segreto uccide': highly entertaining yet political movies. not to forget the films that started the whole thing 'la polizia ringrazia' and 'la polizia sta a guardare'. the ultimate art-house poliziesco remains of course elio petri's 'indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto', which won the oscar for best foreign film in 1969.

K H Brown said...

I forgot about La polizia ringrazia - quite a change from what audiences and critics expected of Steno, I would think?

I agree with what you're say about Di Leo and being political, and wonder about how his films were received at the time vis-a-vis those of Rosi.

I've seen things like The Mattei Affair and We Still Kill the Old Way at my local arthouse cinema, for instance, as parts of touring retrospective programmes, whereas the Di Leo season that played at the National Film Theatre in London - I guess on the back of the Venice retrospective of a few years back - either didn't tour or didn't come here. I think that's telling as to a certain division between their respective political cinemas, the one more respectable and the other more populist.

Thanks for the insights :-)

luca canali said...

you're welcome.

i think we are living in the age of a change of paradigm regarding italian b-movies of the 70's - in italy even 'serious' critics have started re-evaluating these films, not to mention the general public. in italy all kinds of films from the 'good old days' are extremely popular, everything gets put out on dvd at a remarkable pace. one year ago, you only found half of the italian films in dvd that you find now.

a lot of books get published, an every aspect of 1970's films - poliziotteschi, gialli, horror, sexy comedies, countless books on joe d'amato et al. just in the most recent years.

Anonymous said...

I should second Luca Canali(!)'s latest comment on the whole. However, I strongly disagree about the "political quality" of Di Leo's cinematography. I believe if you investigate this element within the genre, you will be strongly disappointed, the only serious political connotations in poliziottesco genre being those common to every single film in cinema history, being each title expression of an idea of Reality and witnessing a specific moment in time. All these movies are full of stereotypes and reveal a simplistic approach to social issues, the main aim being always to be effectively entertaining.
Cinema is an art on the whole, so there will be only either good or bad poliziotteschi, a few of them displaying obvious filmic qualities (Milano Odia). And, La Mala Ordina and Milano Calibro 9 ARE NOT exemples of Poliziottesco, but rather Italian takes on noir/crime stories.
Apologies for my poor English.

Fabio Patanè