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L’Assassino (1961) | Elio Petri’s Kafkaesque thriller is a neglected cinematic gem

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)Released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, director Elio Petri’s dazzling 1961 debut L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome) also stars Marcello Mastroianni, this time as sleazy thirtysomething antique dealer Alfredo Martelli, arrested on suspicion of murdering his older, far wealthier lover Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). But as the police investigation proceeds, it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial…

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Best known for Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion and The Tenth Victim (read my review here), Elio Petri was one of the finest and yet most underrated Italian directors of the 1960s and 1970s. Highly acclaimed on its original UK release but unjustly neglected since, L’Assassino is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities; fusing a thriller, a favourite genre of Petri’s, with elements of a mystery plot with a Kafkaesque air, while also being an explicit critique of the rising upper-bourgeois society in Italy in the early 1960s.

Written for the screen by Tonino Guerra (who also did Antonioni’s Blow-Up, Fellini’s Amarcord and Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia); lensed by Woody Allen’s favourite cinematographer, Carlo Di Palma; edited by Fellini regular Ruggero Mastroianni; and with music by Piero Piccioni (whose compositions have recently been used in American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook), L’Assassino is certainly ripe for rediscovery.

L’Assassino (aka The Ladykiller of Rome)

Following a high-definition restoration by Cineteca di Bologna, this is the first-ever UK home entertainment release of L’Assassino and comes in a Blu-ray and DVD combo pack from Arrow Films’ Arrow Academy label.

Alongside the 2k digital presentation of the film, there’s also a host of special features on offer, including the 52-minute documentary, Tonino Guerra – A Poet in the Movies, about the acclaimed screenwriter; an introduction by Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone; theatrical trailer; collector’s booklet (featuring some informative new and vintage writings on the film); and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw.

Roma (1972) | Federico Fellini’s surreal homage bedazzles on Blu-ray

Roma on Blu-ray

For the first time in the UK comes the Blu-ray release of Roma, one of the most colourful spectacles in the cinema of Federico Fellini. This homage to Rome brings the Eternal City to exuberant outrageous life through a surreal mix of fantasy, documentary and autobiography.

Fellini's Roma on Blu-ray

Of all of Fellini’s wildly expressive art movies, Roma is the one I return to time and again. Why? Because it operates on a purely subconscious level. It’s blend of memory and fantasy creates a surreal travelogue that haunts you forever. And the director’s ornately orchestrated set pieces are not only a sensorial delight; they also seem to get to the core of what it is to be Roman.

Part one, set in 1939 on the eve of war, shows a young Fellini discovering the city’s bustling life for the first time, and this is wonderfully illustrated in a stunning scene in which an entire neighbourhood dine on steaming plates of pasta on a crowded street during a heatwave.

Fellini's Roma on Blu-ray

In the second part, set in the 1970s, an older Fellini is filming his documentary, in which he is trying to discover the real Rome. And it’s with these segments that he wields his cinema magic: A film crew struggles in the rain to shoot footage of a new ring road as prostitutes ply their trade on the roadside; archaeologists discover a 2000-year-old Roman house in a subterranean tunnel only for the frescos to fade before their eyes in a matter of seconds; and a motorcycle gang take a night through the deserted city, their headlights creating ghostly shadows of the facades of Rome’s most iconic sites, before disappearing into the darkness.

Fellini's Roma on Blu-ray

But it’s the papal fashion show that is the film’s high point. This comic communion of cartoon camp and Catholic pageantry is cinematic genius, and Nino Rota’s funereal score only adds to the religious ecstasy that unfolds. This is satire in its shiniest ecclesiastical garb, while the film’s closing shots, as the motorcyclists head into the night, makes for a seemless link to Paolo Sorrentino’s Oscar-winning The Great Beauty which, in my mind, makes for an ideal companion piece to Fellini’s triumphant homage.

The Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release includes a 1080p HD transfer of the international cut, restored in 2010 from a 35mm negative, with options to watch the film with or without subtitles, with English audio, and with separate music and effects tracks. There’s also an interview with Italian cinema expert Chris Wagstaff, deleted scenes and two trailers.

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