December 9, 2002
Starring: Salvo Randone, Frank Wolff, Sennuccio Benelli, Giuseppe Calandra, Pietro Cammarata, Max Cartier, Nando Cicero, Giuseppe Teti, Cosimo Torino, Ugo Torrente, Bruno Ukmar, Frederico Zardi, ,
Famous outlaw Salvatore Giuliano was found dead in a courtyard in Montelepre, Italy in July 1950. He was mysteriously shot and killed, the details of which are embroiled in controversy. Francesco Rosi’s film flashes back to the early 1940s to show Italy’s social and political climate at the time. After World War II and the Allied liberation, a Separatist movement started to counter what they saw as a fascistic government. These are the conditions that spawned Salvatore Giuliano.
The film provides some insight into his back-story. He was an outlaw by the age of 21 and in a few years he was courted by the military arm of the Separatist movement who made him a Colonel. They enlisted him and his gang in return for a pardon for all of their previous crimes. He orchestrated several successful attacks on government forces but when one particular ambush resulted in several dead innocent civilians, the powers that be increased their efforts to capture or kill Giuliano and his gang.
The power of Salvatore Giuliano is in Francesco Rosi’s documentary-like approach. The entire film is realistically photographed, including the use of natural light. Rosi’s movie attempts to piece together the hows and whys of Giuliano’s death. Eyewitness accounts conflicted with the official version so what is the truth? It’s a fascinating look at Italian political and social conditions of the time. Rosi’s film exposes the corruption and hypocrisy of the Separatists. After Giuliano helped them liberate Sicily, they would not make good on their promises and twisted their own words just like the dishonest government before them.
Giuliano is mostly shown only as a corpse and only seen glimpses of in flashbacks but, like Harry Lime in The Third Man (1939), his presence is felt everywhere. And with good reason; he’s smart and well prepared. He knows when government soldiers are approaching ahead of time and makes himself accessible to journalists but impossible to reach for anyone else, which only enhances his reputation.
The first disc features an informative audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie. He talks about how Salvatore Giuliano fared when it was released and examines it in relation to the rest of Italian cinema at the time. He also provides historical background to those not familiar with the Giuliano’s death. Cowie is well-spoken and there are no lulls at all, making this an invaluable track about Italian culture and cinema.
Also included is a vintage theatrical trailer for the movie. It features none of the dramatic voiceovers we are used to hearing in contemporary ads. Instead, the film’s striking images sell the movie.
The second DVD starts off with “Witness to the Times,” a brand new interview with Francesco Rosi by writer Tullio Kezich exclusively for this DVD. From an early age, Rosi decided to devote his life to cinema. He talks at length about Salvatore Giuliano and how, with that film, he wanted to move past neorealism by depicting, what he calls, “critical realism.” Rosi wanted the film to ask questions of the audience, forcing them to be active rather than passive observers. Interestingly, everything depicted in the film is based on fact and Rosi even went so far as to shoot in the actual locations where the events took place with the people who lived through them.
In order to appreciate the lengths that Rosi went to realistically re-create the death of Giuliano, Criterion has included an “Italian Newsreel” that was shot in July 12, 1980, only seven days after his body was found. This is a fascinating historical document of the time period.
Finally, “Il Cineasta E Il Labirinto” is an Italian documentary on Rosi’s life and films that was made in 2002 with the participation of the filmmaker. Included is the director’s emotional visit to some of the locations he used in Salvatore Giuliano. There are also interviews with fellow filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Giuseppe Tornatore who talk about how much they admire the man and his work. This documentary is an excellent introduction into Rosi’s cinema.
Salvatore Giuliano is a powerful political film that refuses to mythologize its subject. Instead, it exposes the rampant corruption in Italian politics at that time and explores the various interpretations of the truth surrounding Giuliano’s death. Criterion has assembled a pristine print that looks and sounds fantastic. They have also included a nice collection of supplemental material that puts the film in its proper historical and cultural context and provides the necessary background for those not familiar with this movie.