..

SALVATORE GIULIANO

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Salvo Randone, Frank Wolff, Pietro Cammarata
Director: Francesco Rosi
Audio: Italian monaural 1.0
Subtitles: English
Video: Black & white, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Criterion
Features: Commentary, trailer, newsreel clip, essays, two documentaries
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2004

"Giuliano fought for Sicily and sooner or later his name will be cleared, too!"

Film ****

Salvatore Giuliano was one of Italy's most celebrated hero-bandits, a Sicilian outlaw who, for the better part of five years in the immediate post-war era, fought for the independence of Sicily.  Giuliano had originally been recruited by separatist leaders during the world war to aid in their cause, with a promise of full clemency upon successful completion of his campaign.  That, of course, never happened.  Constantly hounded by the authorities and the carabinieri after the war, Giuliano was instead betrayed, ambushed, and eventually gunned down in the streets of Castelvetrano on July 5, 1950.  He was only twenty-seven at the time of his death but his notoriety as a charismatic outlaw has since survived him.

In 1961, Italian director Francesco Rosi chose to explore the myths and legends surrounding Giuliano's legacy.  Rosi's movie, entitled Salvatore Giuliano, exposes the complex relationships between Giuliano's band of outlaws, the pisciotti, and the people of Sicily.  Part re-enactment and part faux documentary, the film opens on the day of Giuliano's death and then travels back in time to look at the separatist politics associated with Giuliano's ascension to prominence.  Using an interlocking present-time and flashback structure, Rosi's film juxtaposes the events and betrayals that eventually came together to bring about Giuliano's fatal encounter with the carabinieri.

As the film begins, reporters and police inspectors surround and inspect Giuliano's blood-stained body lying motionless on the stone pavement.  The voice of the narrator describes the scene as though it were a normal crime scene.  But, as the film progresses, a tangled web of intrigue, lies, and deceit is soon revealed, catching in its midst the likes of the Mafia and even the carabinieri themselves.  The flashbacks focus on several key events - Giuliano's various encounters with the separatists and the carabinieri, ambushes and assassinations and failed attempts to capture the bandit, and most infamously, a 1947 massacre of a communist party gathering at Portella della Ginestra.  This massacre, though never fully attributed to any one man, was blamed on Giuliano and was the final impetus that resulted in the massive manhunt and capture of Giuliano's top aides and ultimately the bandit himself.

The present-time sequences focus on the immediate aftermath of Giuliano's death.  A reporter goes about Castelvetrano, seeking insight from the townspeople about their views on the bandit.  Some consider him a modern-day Robin Hood, while others blame him for the injustices inflicted upon their town by the carabinieri in their relentless pursuit of the bandit.  A tribunal is assembled to pass judgment upon the former members of the pisciotti for their participation in the Portella della Ginestra massacre but perhaps raises more questions than it answers.  Who really killed the famous bandit?  Was he betrayed by his most trusted confidant?  What was the involvement of the Mafia in Giuliano's death?

Curiously, Giuliano is conspicuously absent for much of the film.  He has no significant lines when he is around (often appearing only in shadows or as a silhouette), and the film is more concerned with recreating the ambience and turmoil of his reign over the Sicilian countryside rather than in revealing the man himself.  Giuliano thus becomes somewhat of an abstraction, a symbol of the corruption and duplicity of Sicilian politics.  In this sense, while Giuliano is reduced to almost an incidental character in his own film, his presence and dominion still preside over nearly every frame of the film, in much the same way as Orson Welles's Harry Lime does in Carol Reed's classic The Third Man.

In his preparations for the film, Rosi did extensive research, the result being an extremely factual film that also manages to be cinematic.  As a filmmaker, Rosi was not very interested in romanticizing his subject matters and preferred films of social or political commentary, shot objectively to emphasize the underlying decay of modern society.  Salvatore Giuliano is an excellent example of Rosi's style.   It is a film that reflects Rosi's own love of the American film noir style as well as his training under the guidance of such famed Italian directors as Antonioni or Visconti.

Salvatore Giuliano consequently shows the influence of Italian neorealism, although Rosi was not a neorealist filmmaker himself.  Salvatore Giuliano employs a cast of hundreds, particularly for scenes of rioting, massacres, or political assembly, only two actors of whom were professionals.  One was Frank Wolff who portrays Gaspre Pisciotta, Giuliano's right-hand man, and the other was Salvo Randone, who portrays the President of the Court of Assize during the film's court sessions.  The film is otherwise populated by the townsfolk of Castelvetrano, Montelepre, and Palermo, Sicily.  To help further recreate the film's authentic look and feel, Rosi even re-visits many of the locations and towns frequented by Giuliano, including the actual site of the Portella della Ginestra massacre (many villagers caught in the real massacre re-enacted their roles in it for Rosi's film!).

Salvatore Giuliano is the film that brought Rosi to prominence in the Italian cinema.  Its great influence has stretched far beyond its initial release in 1961 and can clearly be seen in the Godfather films of the 1970's or the faux documentary style of such 1960's films as Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or Gillo Pontecorvo's extraordinarily authentic The Battle of Algiers.

Rosi continued to make politically-themed films well into the 1990's.  His films, aggressive and uncompromising in their scope, have won many international awards, and have earned him praise from such directors as Martin Scorsese or Federico Fellini as "one of the great masters of contemporary cinema." Salvatore Giuliano was Rosi's third film, and for film-goers interested in Rosi's works, this exciting film of intrigue, crime, and shady politics is an excellent place to start.

Video *** 1/2

Salvatore Giuliano is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format that preserves the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  The transfer was created from the original 35mm restored camera negative.  The movie was photographed in black & white, which heightens the intensity of the film's semi-documentary style.  The picture is generally detailed and very sharp, with excellent contrast levels.  I detected no compression artifacts.  There are some minor instances of dust and debris but nothing too distracting.  For an older European film, Salvatore Giuliano looks quite fantastic.

Audio * 1/2

Italian is a remarkably fiery language, and the energy and force of conviction that the characters in Salvatore Giuliano bring to their lines is something to behold.  That being said, the film naturally uses its original Italian monaural audio, created from the restored soundtrack negative.  English subtitles are optional.  Criterion has cleaned up the soundtrack nicely of hiss or crackles, but regrettably the audio is quite thin (which is generally the case with these old Italian films anyway).  Much of the dialogue sounds like it was rendered through a thin wall, giving the audio a decidedly muffled quality, even at high volume.  The frequent misalignment of dialogue to lip movement attests to an inherent flaw in Italian films of this era, as these films were nearly always filmed silently and post-dubbed afterwards.  A 2-channel dispersal of the sound is possible but does not really alter the overall quality.  On the other hand, this sound quality actually magnifies the intense documentary feel of the film!

Features ****

Salvatore Giuliano is a 2-disc set from Criterion.  The first disc holds the film, a very effective trailer, and a commentary track.  The commentary is provided by film historian Peter Cowie, who is quite riveting as he describes Rosi's style and thematic technique.  While scholarly in tone, Cowie's discussions are at least as interesting as the film itself and explain many of the more obscure but historically factual events upon which the film was based.

Disc Two contains the core of the extra features.  First up is Witness to the Times (19 min.), a new interview created exclusively for this DVD release by Criterion.  Francesco Rosi and film critic Tullio Kezich offer their thoughts about Salvatore Giuliano, from the circumstances surrounding the real outlaw's death to the film's structure itself.

For viewers who want to view the actual outlaw, there is a July 12, 1950 Italian newsreel clip (3 min.) reporting the death of Giuliano.  It shows footage of Giuliano's corpse on the Castelvetrano street as was faithfully reproduced in the film.  For viewers with especially morbid taste, there is even a close-up of the corpse and its wounds later as it is being removed from the morgue.

Il cineasta e il labirinto (55 min.), or "The Filmmaker and the Labyrinth," is an Italian documentary summarizing the life and career of Francesco Rosi.  Rosi himself serves as the principal narrator, and numerous clips from most of his films are shown in this documentary.  Included are clips from Three Brothers, for which he received as Oscar nomination, Carmen, his sole French opera film, and many of his Italian films.

As is the norm with Criterion releases, there is a package insert with relevant literature.  For this film, the insert contains an essay written by Michel Ciment, a film historian and president of the International Federation of Film Critics.  The insert also has brief tributes from directors Francis Ford Coppola, Frederico Fellini, and Martin Scorsese, who all mention Rosi's influence upon their careers.

Summary:

Salvatore Giuliano is a politically-charged film that is a forebear to the great Mafia films and suspense/political thrillers of the 1970's. It is an excellent example of post-neorealist cinema in Italy and a film well worth checking out.