Friday, November 25, 2011

The Best Movies I Have Never Seen Before: Salvatore Giuliano (1962)

Salvatore Guilano (1962) ***
Directed by: Francesco Rosi.
Written by: Suso Cecchi d'Amico & Enzo Provenzale & Francesco Rosi & Franco Solinas.
Starring: Salvo Randone (President of Viterbo Assize Court), Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta).

There is no doubt that Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Guilano is a very influential film. You see echoes of this film in something like Gillo Pontecorvo’s much better known The Battle of Algiers – made four years after this, and even in something as recent at Matteo Garrone’s Gomorrah (2008). It is a film that jumps back and forth in time, to show how criminal Salvatore Guilano, and his mafia, influenced events in Sicily for almost two decades. The strange thing is that Guilano isn’t even a character in the movie – he only shows up in the movie as a corpse or as a barely seen presence running up the mountains.

The fact that Rosi chose to name his film after a character that is barely in it, and makes no impression on the film as a living character, is odd, but it works to a certain extent. Guilano himself isn’t important – and Rosi definitely did not want to make some sort of hero out of the outlaw, which many films seem to do. Rather, he wants to show the corruption in Sicily during this time period, the relationships between the criminals, and more importantly, the relationships these criminals had with the cops and politicians, who were supposed to be doing something about them. This is a complex portrait of a society that is rotten to its core.

The film is broken up into two halves – the first revolving around the discovery of Giulano’s body in 1950, that then flashes back to tell everything that happened between 1943 (when Guilano fought for Italy), through Sicily’s succession movement, and into Guilano becoming a criminal. The second half of the movie is about Guilano’s right hand man and Judas Pisciotta, who is put on trial for many things in 1960, and flashing back to what got them there from the time of Guilano’s death to the trial itself. The odd thing about the movie is although it is made up of flashbacks, Rosi doesn’t identify them as such. The present and the past play off of each other, cause and effect are next to each other, rather than the story proceeding in a chronological fashion.

I must say that I admired Salvatore Guilano more than I actually enjoyed or became involved in the film. Unless you are up on your Sicilian history, you may well get lost in the movies complex narrative, as I was at certain times. Perhaps a second viewing would help in that regard. But the filmmaking itself is impeccable. Rosi’s style mixes together neo-realism and the crime drama – something echoed in the film’s top notch cinematography and editing. I want to see more of Rosi’s work, because even if I didn’t love Salvatore Guilano, I can tell what a gifted filmmaker he was.

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