A young bank clerk (Flavio Bucci), denied a loan by his employer, decides to exact his revenge on the local butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) who is not only a nasty, violent, greedy piece of work but also one of the bank’s star customers. Quitting his job, the clerk devotes all of his time, tormenting the butcher and stealing his possessions one-by-one, including his mistress (Daria Nicolodi). (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Even with decades of accolades (including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film) and an enduring legacy, Elio Petri’s career is still overshadowed by the likes of his arthouse and left-wing filmmaker contemporaries. His films have aged beautifully, because of their unique personalities, which combine genre parody, endlessly relevant political satire, and pointedly absurd situations. Few filmmakers are able to satisfy artistic and social curiosities with such potent entertainment value. After exploring S&M relationships in A Quiet Place in the Country (Italian: Un tranquillo posto di campagna, 1968) and touching upon the corruption of authority through the lens of the giallo and poliziotteschi (or ‘Eurocrime’) movies with Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Italian: Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, 1970), Petri applied his ‘man trapped in a Kafkaesque Möbius strip of his own design’ formula to Property is No Longer a Theft (Italian: La proprietà non è più un furto, 1973). This film bares all the hallmarks of the director’s best work – comedically co-dependent sexual relationships, a subversion of genre traditions, and dream-logic soliloquies – as it takes direct aim at the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of capitalism.
Property is No Longer Theft skews towards straight spoof, moreso even than Petri’s absurdist sci-fi comedy The 10th Victim ((Italian: La decima vittima, 1965), occasionally tripping over the line into the kind of googly-eyed parody that makes too many Italian comedies so obnoxious. Fortunately, the director and co-writer Ugo Pirro maintain a sarcastic edge that holds the hamminess at bay. In keeping with his other films, this one can be very difficult to follow on a plot level, but this is, I believe, by design, because plot is secondary to the artistic and social statement. The bigger hurdle for English-speaking audiences is the wordplay, which does not translate as well as the concepts and physical comedy. Fortunately for all concerned, Petri’s lively direction, Luigi Kuveiller’s virtuoso camerawork, and Gianni Polidori’s ultra-chic production design are delectable enough that it’s easy to overlook a few missed jokes and other cultural barriers.
Flavio Bucci, best-known for his later appearances as a dim-witted thug in Aldo Lado’s nasty, Last House on the Left-inspired Night Train Murders (Italian: L'ultimo treno della notte; aka: Late Night Trains, 1975), the blind pianist in Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977), appears in one of his only leading roles and is joined by a devilishly sexy Daria Nicolodi, who about to meet Argento herself while making Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975). Co-lead/antagonist/victim of the Kafka nightmare Ugo Tognazzi had enjoyed an illustrious career at the time, including a central performance in Marco Ferreri’s La Grande Bouffe (1973), as somewhat similar cultural satire that was released the same year as Property is No Longer Theft. Also note that this film is considered to be the final chapter in a loosely-knit “Trilogy of Neurosis” (sometimes referred to as the “social schizophrenia” trilogy) that includes Investigation of a Citizen and The Working Class Goes to Heaven (Italian: La classe operaia va in paradiso, 1971). The former is currently unavailable on English-friendly DVD or Blu-ray.
Property is No Longer Theft was released on Italian DVD, but without English subtitles, so Arrow’s Blu-ray marks the film’s English-friendly debut on any digital format. The footage was remastered on behalf of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (in Torino, Italy) and Cineteca di Bologna (in Bologna, naturally). The original negative was scanned in 4K and then restored digitally at a 2K resolution (it doesn’t seem like Arrow was directly involved in the process, outside of mastering the Blu-ray itself). The effort has resulted in a fantastic and very natural-looking 1.85:1, 1080p transfer. Based on the film’s age and fact that cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller’s photography is designed to appear somewhat soft, I doubt this particular movie could look any better than it does here. Though the grain is sometimes heavy, depending on the type of shot (darker scenes and the ones affected by dreamy soft focus), the overall effects appears natural and rarely hamper the even levels of the gradations. Details are relatively sharp, especially the patterns within the complex production/set design and close-up textures. Color quality is vibrant without being overly-punchy and most of the hues are neatly separated. The only notable issue is the strength of the black levels, which are pretty grey. I assume that this is the result of the restoration staff trying to lighten up some sequences that appeared too flat and/or dark. The effort was not in vain, because, while the blacks are particularly deep, different shades are neatly defined.
The original mono Italian soundtrack was also restored from the original optical negative and presented in uncompressed LPCM. There are hints of fuzz and hiss throughout the dialogue and effects tracks, but plenty of ‘roundness’ for an Italian production and not a lot of high-end distortion. As per usual for movies from the area and era, there was no recorded on-set sound, so all of the performances are ADR’d and all of the minor, mostly incidental effects were achieved using foley work and library sounds. Ennio Morricone also composed this film’s musical score. It isn’t nearly as famous as his work on the more popular Cinema Paradiso, but offers plenty of off-kilter character, including the experimental, rock and jazz-inspired edge he patented while scoring spaghetti westerns and gialli. The music conveys considerable aural depth for a mono track and its many layers are easily discernible during the most boisterous moments.
My Name is Total (19:46, HD) – Flavio Bucci recalls his career and working on Property is No Longer Theft.
The Middle-Class Communist (23:33, HD) – Producer Claudio Mancini discusses coming up in the industry, working with leftist filmmakers (Petri, Giuliano Montaldo, and Giulio Questi), and the films he produced with/for Petri.
The Best Man (23:04, HD) – Makeup artist Pierantonio Mecacci also talks about his earlier career and making Petri’s actors look good over the years.
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