CONFESSIONE DI UN COMMISSARIO DI POLIZIA AL PROCURATORE DELLA REPUBBLICCA (1971), directed by Damiano Damiani, has been claimed as the film which launched the whole poliziotteschi genre, though there are rival candidates.

Damiani denied that A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL was a western, but I don’t know if he was similarly picky about his cop movies. It may seem a foolish delicacy, but perhaps it helped him think in non-generic terms. CONFESSIONE is no DIRTY HARRY knock-off, although it does make vigilantism of a kind seem an understandable reaction to Italy’s widespread Mafia corruption.

I don’t think of the following as a spoiler — run away if you feel you must, however — Damiani follows the logic Polanski explained with regard to CHINATOWN — if you want the audience to come away caring about the issues you’re outlining, you can’t have a traditional clean and happy resolution. So most Italian crime movies, and certainly all Damiani’s that I’ve seen, end with a worst case scenario, the good punished, the evil rewarded. His good guys are defeated by their very humanity.

There’s a flipside to Polanski’s theorem — if you keep slamming the audience with downer endings, they may find they prefer escapist nonsense — that’s one reading of what happened to the New Hollywood cinema. Keeping the audience engaged and angry without driving them to the despair of mere cynicism would be a hard balance to strike with the uncoordinated cinematic produce of an entire film industry. One interpretation of Italy’s current predicament might be an overall loss of hope in the democratic project.

Still — can’t blame Damiani for that. This one has Martin Balsam as the rogue cop and Franco Nero as the straight shooter. Marilu’ Tolo’s role could have stood enlarging, since she’s potentially the third point of the narrative triangle, and her role is a little predictable. Still, giving her more to do could have caused that problem to get worse. As soon as she’s put in the position of needing sheltered from assassins, we fear the worst. What saved the film from any rote quality is that Damiani can imagine a “worst” that’s worse than what I could have come up with. It’s pretty damn bleak.

Still, it has the gaudy fashions, frantic energy and pop-operatic Riz Ortolani score we like to see, and a plot that mostly keeps lurching, unbalanced, in wholly unpredictable ways — always from bad to worse, aided by Balsam’s zero-fucks-left-to-give character — but the actor’s underrated soulful quality greatly deepens the affect. And the film features a man-to-man love story which might have rivalled A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL’s, except that the flashbacks showing Balsam’s departed idol never show Balsam interacting with him… A narrative firewall against homoeroticism which might be read as revealing in and of itself.


8 Responses to “Cop/Killer”

  1. Tony Williams Says:

    Another stimulating review. CONFESSIONS was certainly not the first of its type since Roberto Curti’s indispensable filmography dates these films from 1968-80. What makes the key element of the poliziotteschi is the fusion between Christian Democratic corruption, mafia involvement and the frustration of the honest official who sees no way of changing things unless breaking the rules appears. This is far from the right-wing vigilantism brush with which most early critics tarred the genre. Study of these films often reveal the daek political forces struggling for control in those turbulent “Years of Lead” during the 60s and 70s that explain the return of Fascism in Italy today, especially wth the Right egaged in terrorist activities they blamed on the Left and Guido Andreotti’s exposure of NATO’s Secret Armies (the title of a very good book by a Swiss security researcher) that may also have contributed to such terrorist acts. Maybe the “overall loss of hope in the democratic project” may have other causes than popular discontent since the CIA was actively supporting former Fascists in the post-war period.

    I saw the film in Manchester on its theatrical release in the 70s. When Lee J. Cobb died, Balsam benefitted from many of the roles he would have played.

  2. I find it more and more hard to come to any other conclusion that what happened to New Hollywood was “A New Hope”. Fantasy was the safe place to find happy endings, so fantasy took over.

  3. Yes, though it’s interesting, remembering back how long it took for Hollywood to find any way of making the fantasy phenomenon repeatable, outside of Lucas’ direct sequels. I think what we saw first was a softening of the straight dramas, which became infused with a touch of the same fantasy.

    I see there’s another Balsam-Damiani collaboration, I must run it.

  4. Tony Williams Says:

    An amusing tale involves two editing teams in a British studio. The new one asks the other, “What are you editing?” They proudly answer, “A Sam Peckinpah film. What are you working on?” The shamefaced reply is “A film called Star Wars.”

  5. architekturadapter Says:

    Excellent review and refreshing comments :-) looking forward for more DD !
    I was reading an article this summer about CIA involvements in Italy and Germany during the “years of lead”. Confirms TW’s comments.

  6. Simon Kane Says:

    Maybe I’m thinking of the “kidult” trend more than straight fanstasy. Close Encounters might be an even better text then: a government conspiracy thriller/abduction horror that closes with a wildly and unfashionably optimistic ending.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Unfortunately, Spielberg would not have the maturity, let alone the necessary oppositional tendencies, to make this kind of film.

    Several months ago I spoke with a female Italian academic who told me her older brothers used to take her on left wing demonstrations then and they were all afraid that the police would arrest them and nothing more would be heard of them.I wonder who was behind this method?

  8. Simon Kane Says:

    It was defiinitely Spielberg.

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