Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970): Italy’s Oscar Winner, Starring Gian Maria Volonté

Made one year after Costa-Gavras  Z, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is a terrific Italian political thriller, which won the same award in that category in 1970.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion Poster.jpg

Italian film poster

Tautly directed by Elio Petri, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, which was a huge success internationally, is credited for launching (some say) or revitalizing (others say) Italian political cinema of the 1970s.

It may or may not be a coincidence that it was released in the same year as Bertolucci’s masterpiece, The Conformist.

The great Italian actor Gian Maria Volonté plays the nameless head of the Rome homicide police division, who murders his wife and then arrogantly plants various clues that would (and would) lead investigators directly to him.

His ideology is that a man of his caliber is above suspicion by virtue of his status and power.  Knowing the corrupt and decadent system, he holds that the investigators likely would focus their search on leftist members.

A recently promoted police inspector kills his mistress (Florinda Bolkan), and then covers up his involvement in the crime. He insinuates himself into the investigation, planting clues to steer his subordinate officers toward a series of other suspects, including the woman’s gay husband and a student leftist radical.

He then exonerates the other suspects, leading the investigators toward him to prove that he is “above suspicion” and can get away with anything, even while being investigated.

He eventually confesses to the crime in front of his superiors, who refuse to believe him. Feeling that he is safe, he recants his confession, and gets the approval of the police commissioner.

The interrogation at his home turns out to be a dream sequence.

The film ends with the actual arrival of the commissioner and other colleagues.

Remarkably, the movie was also nominated for the Best Original Screenplay, penned by Elgi Petri, who began his career as a film critic for the Communist daily L’Unità, and Ugo Pirro.

The winner, however, was the American Paddy Chayefsky for the satire, The Hospital.

The film is dominated by the charismatic performance of Gian Maria Volonté as the chief, an actor most viewers at the time knew from his spaghetti Westerns (A Fistful of Dollars).

Edgy, offbeat, and suspenseful, the film raises many provocative issues, not to mention its strong production values, especially the score by the brilliant Ennio Morricone.


Oscar Context:

The other nominees in the Foreign Language Film Oscar category were: First Love from Switzerland, Hoa-Binh from France, Paix sur les Champs from Belgium, and Tristana from Spain.


Directed by Elio Petri
Screenplay by Petri, Ugo Pirro

Produced by Marina Cicogna, Daniele Senatore

Cinematography Luigi Kuveiller
Edited by Ruggero Mastroianni
Music by Ennio Morricone

Production company: Vera Film

Distributed by Euro International Films (Italy); Columbia Pictures (US)

Release date: February 9, 1970 (Italy); December 20, 1970 (US)

Running time: 115 minutes