Review by Ed Nguyen
Salvo Randone, Frank Wolff, Pietro Cammarata
Director: Francesco Rosi
Audio: Italian monaural 1.0
Video: Black & white, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Commentary, trailer, newsreel clip, essays, two documentaries
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: February 24, 2004
fought for Sicily and sooner or later his name will be cleared, too!"
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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