An absorbing, resonant, at instances close to majestic whodunit, “Illustrious Corpses” is the Italian analog to Watergate-era conspiracy thrillers like “The Parallax View” and “The Conversation.” The movie, first seen right here on the 1976 New York Film Festival, is at Film Forum in a new 4K restoration via Oct. 21.
As directed by Francesco Rosi, one of many most political of Italian filmmakers, “Illustrious Corpses” aspires to the metaphysical. The opening sequence, partially set to Chopin’s Funeral March, has an aged gentleman pay a go to to the sacred mummies in a dank church catacomb and, reaching for a flower, fall from an murderer’s bullet — the primary of many judges to be shot. “The mafia killed him,” one orator later declares on the choose’s funeral. “He was the mafia,” shout the youthful demonstrators on the street, thus laying out the movie’s specific logic.
“Illustrious Corpses” relies on the novel, “Equal Danger,” by Leonardo Sciascia, a Sicilian author who wrote typically about the mafia, finally as metaphor. His afterword to “Equal Danger,” Sciascia calls it “a fable about power anywhere in the world.” Still, though Italy is never talked about, the areas — recognizably Palermo, Naples and Rome — are scarcely allegorical.
By distinction, Rosi’s protagonist is something of an abstraction or a helpful cliché. Tough, trustworthy Inspector Rogas (the veteran roughneck Lino Ventura) is tasked with fixing the primary homicide and people who comply with. As he theorizes a offender, an existential policier plays out against a background of strikes and demonstrations, below fixed state surveillance. There are robust hints of unseen forces. Playing a choose, Max Von Sydow materializes as a model of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor advancing a theology of judicial infallibility.
In his 1976 review, the New York Times critic Vincent Canby called “Illustrious Corpses” “a dazzling example of fashionably radical Italian filmmaking — elegantly composed, breathlessly paced, photographed in the beautiful, drained colors of a landscape in mourning for the sun.” He also found the movie drained in one other way, so broad in its “indictment of government” as to lack any actual drive.
In truth, made during a time when Italy had ample cause to concern a coup d’état, “Illustrious Corpses” isn’t only topical but fairly particular in addressing a bombing marketing campaign waged by the right-wing extremists to destabilize the nation as well as the “historic” compromise by which the Italian Communist Party joined the Christian Democratic authorities. More specific than the novel, the movie ends with a communist official inverting a quote related to the Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, “the truth isn’t always revolutionary.”
Casting contributes to the film’s sardonic gravitas. Along with Von Sydow, the French conflict horses Charles Vanel and Alain Cuny seem as a pair of judges and Luis Buñuel’s frequent alter ego, the urbane Fernando Ray, plays a duplicitous minister of safety. Despite the youthful radicals massed across the edges, “Illustrious Corpses” is, because the title suggests, an previous man’s world. The corrupt gerontocracy is disrupted only when Tina Aumont (the daughter of camp icon Maria Montez) makes a scene-stealing look as a witness to homicide.
Through Oct. 21 at Film Forum, Manhattan; filmforum.org.