Cineaste Petri Review

“A seemingly eclectic but actually very helpful selection of such hard-to-find Petri pieces, the aptly titled Writings on Cinema & Life is posited in Gili’s introduction as homage to “a man that was like a big brother to me, a brother who had a lot to teach and pass down.” The result definitely serves as a touching tribute, showing Petri as an enormously educated and gifted writer graced with a remarkable sense of humor, but just as capable of well-reasoned and sound analysis as of occasional bon mots. (“The artistic maturity of the director is manifested through the medium of a perfect and almost nauseating naturalism,” he remarks apropos of Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire.) Meanwhile, the selection spans almost Petri’s entire career, also allowing for an appreciation of the breadth and depth of his interests.

Petri’s last period of activity up to Buone notitzie (Good News, 1979) … is the focus of chapter four, combining Petri’s Sciascia notes with two … interviews on Todo modo, and a real find — Petri’s long internal memo for state television RAI on his internationally unreleased four-hour TV adaptation of Sartre’s Le mani sporche (Dirty Hands, 1978). The French philosopher was a key figure for Petri’s artistic development, and the director delivers a clear-headed, lengthy analysis of Sartre’s political thought, as well as adding his Italian perspective in typically exacting … prose.

No less typical, Petri opens with general considerations on the role of television and its (ab)use as a medium for complacency; his sharp wit showcases a critically minded and comprehensively knowledgeable as well as immensely pleasurable writer. So do his discussions of two painters — Picasso and Claudio Bonichi — in the penultimate chapter, highlighting an important but often neglected influence on his work: Petri was an art collector, who had, for example, collaborated with pop artist Jim Dine to school his lead actor Franco Nero in painting for the tragicomic proto-horror experiment Un tranquillo posto a campagna (A Quiet Place in the Country, 1968). The final chapter consists only of the flash drama “Brief Encounter,” a touching farewell, in which cinema appears as a camera trying to lure an exhausted director back to work. “What about Antonioni?” the camera taunts: “He’s no child, yet he continues to think and say that he can’t live without me.” To which the director replies: “That’s because he can’t grow up. A wonderful illness, yet increasingly rare.”

This one exchange superbly summarizes Petri’s seemingly supreme disillusionment, as well as his innate gifts as an insightful, iconoclastic entertainer with a special penchant for Italian grotesque. (Immediately afterward, the camera inquires about Fellini, only to be told, “He cheats on you with Cinecittà.”) Indeed, despite Petri’s alternately melancholy and corrosive worldview, there was also a flamboyant side to him, excitedly animating his films even in their darkest moments…”

For the full review:

Christoph Huber, Cineaste (August 2013) 68–69.