Asymptote Petri Review

“… what accounts for Petri’s absence from the critical recognition accorded to Zavattini, De Sica, Fellini, Visconti, Rossellini, Bertolucci, and Pasolini? Even at the time of their release, his films unnerved critics at home and abroad. Though a detailed analysis would reveal his kinship to De Sica and the baroque inheritance of Visconti, and despite the continuity of his artistic collaborations, every film Petri released seems to be the product of a different director; this proved disconcerting to cinema experts and the public alike, particularly as it called into question the auteur concept coined by the young Turks of Cahiers du cinema. In a masterstroke of self-promotion, Cahiers’ contributors, with Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer at their head, had imported the idea of auctorial style from literary criticism in order to legitimize the value of the Seventh Art, lionizing a restrictive group of directors congenial to their tastes while paving the way for their own later offerings.

Yet, at this key moment in the history of film criticism, Elio Petri proved erratic and difficult to grasp, requiring a theoretical and analytical background largely unavailable to those outside of Italy. His films were openly political and too complex for superficial formal analyses. Moreover, Petri refused to act as a snake oil salesman, narcissistically hawking his own wares. In his films, literary writings, and criticism, Petri delves into the wounds of the benessere of postwar Italian society, demanding a degree of acquaintance with art and history that few in his potential audience were willing to acquire. Strange as it may seem, the depth of Petri’s commitment to understanding the problems of his time wound up banishing him from the official history of cinema.”

— Beatriz Leal Riesco, Asymptote (October 15, 2013)