Saturday 2 March 2024

The Mattei Affair (Il Caso Mattei) [1972]

 Rosi made dazzling use of a polyphonic, multi-perspective and non-linear form in The Mattei Affair – recalling his landmark film Salvatore Guiliano – which made it an exhilaratingly kaleidoscopic biopic, thrilling piece of investigative journalism and complex historical document rolled into one. He counterpointed documentary realism with the riveting tempo of a conspiracy thriller, and walked a delicate line between questioning official verdicts while avoiding populist postulations, which combined to make this astonishing work a formally audacious exercise and a seminal example of political filmmaking. At the core of its intricately orchestrated tapestry was the towering figure of Enrico Mattei – played with electrifying charisma by Gian Maria Volonté – a former anti-fascist partisan who’d been tasked with dismantling the ailing Mussolini-era petroleum agency AGIP after WW2, but instead converted it into the gigantic behemoth ENI which came to rival the Big Oil oligopoly, and made him an immensely influential business magnate and public figure. He radically challenged the status quo by brokering deals with Soviets, Arabs and Africans; he was openly critical of French colonialism in Algeria; and his allegiances cut across Italy’s political spectrum. Consequently, when his private plane mysteriously crashed in 1962 – which formed its starting point and around which it hinged – anyone from the CIA and OAS to the Mafiosi could’ve engineered the alleged sabotage. As a discomfiting afterword, journalist Mauro De Mauro, who was investigating into Mattei’s death in 1970 on Rosi’s behest, disappeared too, further indicating a cover-up. Interestingly, this vividly shot and ominously scored film shared that year’s Palm d'Or with Elio Petri’s downbeat The Working Class Goes to Heaven, another political film that had Volonté in the lead and became obscure despite the coveted prize.

Director: Francesco Rosi

Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Historical Drama/Biopic

Language: Italian

Country: Italy

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