ELIO PETRI TALKS TO FILM CRITIC ALEXANDRE ASTRUC ON LE JOURN

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ELIO PETRI TALKS TO FILM CRITIC ALEXANDRE ASTRUC ON LE JOURN

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ELIO PETRI TALKS TO FILM CRITIC ALEXANDRE ASTRUC ON LE JOURNAL DU CINEMA
by Le Journal Du Cinema
October 25, 1970

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ELIO PETRI

(In this excerpt from the October 25, 1970, episode of the French television program Le journal du cinema, director Elio Petri talks to film critic Alexandre Astruc about Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion.)

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[Interviewer] Elio Petri's film, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, after arousing passionate debate in Italy, is a smash hit in Paris. Alexandre Astruc loved the film and insisted on meeting Elio Petri. The following is the result of their encounter, a riotous conversation on the police, no pun intended, on actors and on cinema.

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[Homicide Division Chief] The exercise of freedom is threatening our traditional power structure from all sides, our established authorities. The exercise of freedom makes every citizen think he's a judge, and prevents us from executing our sacrosanct duties freely! We are the protectors of the law, and it should be immutable, carved in stone. The populace lacks maturity. The city is sick. Let others take up the task of healing and educating. Our duty is to repress them! Repression is our vaccine! Repression is civilization!

[All Cops] Bravo. Well said, Chief. Bravo, Chief!]


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[Alexandre Astruc] Everything that Petri shows on-screen, at each instant, is something that elicits a response within me. Not only a response as a filmmaker, but also as a human being. Petri speaks to me in first person. He's speaking to me. I wonder, myself, if I'm not divided.

[Interviewer] Like the policeman.

[Alexandre Astruc] Like the policeman.

[Elio Petri] Like myself.

[Alexandre Astruc] Like yourself. I wonder about myself! That's what is fantastic about Petri's film. For once, an analysis that is lucid, intelligent, keen as a scalpel, instead of being pretentious, instead of being exploitative, instead of decrying insecurity or sloganeering like usual analyses. It's an interior analysis, a human analysis. To me, Petri's masters are Visconti, Renoir. It's the head and the heart. Without brains, there's no heart. Without heart, there's no brains.

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[Elio Petri] So you like cinema?

[Alexandre Astruc] Of course! It's obvious.

[Interviewer] Some films are considered "bourgeois." Other films, "revolutionary" films, reject society as well as the cinema of the past 50 years. Godard is a prime example.

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[Elio Petri] You can't love cinema if you don't love society. But society, you can --

[Alexandre Astruc] You can fight.

[Elio Petri] You can fight against society, but that's what it is to love something.

[Alexandre Astruc] You can't love cinema if you don't love what's in front of the camera.

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[Elio Petri] That's right. That means, I think the work of Stroheim, Viconti and Renoir was anthropology, perhaps even anthropophilia.

[Alexandre Astruc] Exactly. What he just said is great.

[Elio Petri] You can't be against mankind. You could be against the bourgeois mind-set, or human miserliness of emotion or thought, or the daily grind. There are many things in the human animal that we must fight with true, powerful hatred, but not humankind.

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[Homicide Division Chief] Hands off the floor! Your entire weight needs to be on your knees. You're not a horse who walks on all fours! You're a citizen of a democracy, not a horse. You're not a horse! What do you prefer? Another quart of salt water or staying on your knees? I don't know. You decide. If you decide to get up, you'd better drink all of it. You'd better drink all of it. All of it. Nothing. Get back on your knees. You shouldn't have drunk any of it. You could leave here within 10 minutes and drink your fill of fresh, pure water. Clear, sweet, fresh water. Student. I don't want to put you on trial. We're not the KGB or the SS. We are the police of a democracy. We're overjoyed when we can spare a citizen a harsh sentence. You're only a kid. I don't want to ruin your future. Sit up straight! You can be a Marxist, an anarchist, a situationist. Mao, Lin Biao. You can read the Little Red Book, do whatever you want. You're not a horse! You're a citizen of this democracy, and I have to respect you.]

[Alexandre Astruc] What I find absolutely fantastic in Petri's film and its message is that he is very healthy, and his film is very healthy.

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[Elio Petri] There is no more normality. Illness is normality. Illness is now normality. This means that we must analyze, for example, a traffic cop. With your camera, you could film a cop all day. One. I ask for one single cop. He acts like a madman because something inside him, while doing his job, pushes him to take personal advantage, meaning, to give orders, to oblige people to obey.

[Alexandre Astruc] Obey.

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[Elio Petri] Obey. You should watch how a cop acts, but also how a general acts, for example, or a university professor who speaks with -- You should! It's theater. And theater is madness, in a certain sense. Either you believe in the normality of social norms, like, "Being homosexual is abnormal." No. Being homosexual is natural. "Being a thief is abnormal." No. Because maybe what is abnormal is the idea of ownership. That's abnormal. Perhaps the norm needs to be reversed ... and the very idea of normality. I was raised the same way as you two, to honor ownership. "It's mine. This toy is mine. We must not share. Right? Simple objects." For example, when I come to Paris, I always buy these little things, because we don't have them in Italy. This object is mine. If someone uses it, I keep an eye on it, and then I take it back. Do you think that's normal? No. It costs a dime. Is that normal? It's sick. Within the very concept of ownership is mental illness, perhaps. Perhaps we're recovering -- I'm speaking of mankind -- See? I like that. But handing it to you, I suffer!

[Interviewer] Really?

[Elio Petri] Perhaps we're recovering from a long period of illness. In the phases of man, perhaps childhood, according to our present civilization, is a disease, is suffering, for we are beaten, we are forced to do many, many, many things that we don't like. Some are necessary, but many things aren't necessary in order to live. It's necessary to breathe, to walk, to eat, to obtain food, and perhaps also to obey a few laws, but not all laws.

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[Cop Sunglasses Skinny] Hello, Chief.

[Homicide Division Chief] Antonio Pace's recordings.

[Cop glasses Skinny] Right away.

[Mangani] The Terzi case.

[Homicide Division Chief] What happened?

[Mangani] Important new developments. I'll keep you posted.

[Cop Bald white hair] Hello, Chief.

[Homicide Division Chief] Hello.

[Cop glasses skinny] Chief, I need your signature please. Thanks.

[Mangani] Antonio, where have you been all day?

[Antonio Pace] The police station.

[Mangani] Is the Political Division hassling you again?

[Antonio Pace] No. I was at Homicide.

[Mangani] How come?

[Antonio Pace] It was about that woman who was killed in my building.

[Mangani] They're implicating you?

[Antonio Pace] No. They want to know if the tenants saw anything.

[Mangani] What did you tell them?

[Antonio Pace] Nothing, of course.

[Mangani] Not even that you slept with her?

[Homicide Division Chief] Bitch.

[Antonio Pace] Shut up. My phone's tapped. Actually, since I'm here, I'd like to talk to the cop that's on duty now. Comrade, you have the degrading job of unlawfully spying on the birth of the Italian revolution, but you're being exploited too. Join us, or at least ask for a raise.

[Homicide Division Chief] Turn it off.]


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[Elio Petri] I consider myself an Expressionist. For example, I hate theater directors who stage a Brecht play like this, with choreography and lovely -- Fashionable, lots of elegant colors.

[Alexandre Astruc] Bravo!

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[Elio Petri] No. Brecht is pop. And that's what he wanted, to make pop entertainment, because he wanted to be understood.

[Interviewer] You mean, like Brecht made his plays for the people, you wanted your film to be accessible, not bourgeois?

[Elio Petri] Exactly.

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[Mangani] Where were you, dear colleague, between 3:00 and 7:00 p.m. the day of Augusta Terzi's murder?

[Homicide Division Chief] Excellency, gentlemen, I was there because I killed her.

[Commander] Can you prove you were at her house?

[Homicide Division Chief] I have some bad news. There is a witness. Unfortunately, the student Antonio Pace, a notorious subversive, saw me enter the building.

[Mangani] That's not true. The student Antonio Pace has a watertight alibi. He wasn't in Rome that afternoon. I questioned him for hours, my dear colleague, and I did it my way!

[Homicide Division Chief] Excellency, the bloody footprints discovered in Augusta Terzi's apartment. Not to interfere in the investigation, but they came from my left shoe.

[Commander] My dear friend, there are thousands of shoes of that size and model.

[Cop Frenchy] I own a pair that's identical.

[Cop] So do I.]


[Interviewer] Let's talk about the film's lead, Gian Maria Volonte. Are actors important to you, and did having this actor --

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[Eio Petri] I love actors.

[Interviewer] Could you have done it with another?

[Elio Petri] I love actors.

[Alexandre Astruc] Finally! A director who loves actors.

[Elio Petri] But I also hate them because it's tiring to work with a good actor: one with a critical mind, who feels uncomfortable, who refuses your ideas, who argues.

[Interviewer] How was it with Volonte?

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[Elio Petri] Like that. Endless discussions. It's an exchange. It's communication. Why consider an actor like a glass? Like a tool, like an object? As a theory, it's reactionary, it's dehumanizing.

[Alexandre Astruc] It's what Bresson does.

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[Elio Petri] I didn't mean Bresson! You could cite many names, but I don't feel like a demiurge, an authority, like in the film. I'm a mere worker in show business. Can you say that without sounding like a demagogue?
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