THE MATTEI AFFAIR (Francesco Rosi, 1972)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Again Francesco Rosi applies documentary and fictional elements to an actual set of circumstances: the life and death of oil industrialist Enrico Mattei (Rosi’s indispensable Gian Maria Volontè, superb), whom Time magazine called “the most powerful Italian since Cæsar Augustus.” The film takes the form of a journalistic investigation, especially into the matter of the ambiguity of Mattei’s death in a plane crash in 1962, for which it offers alternative explanations as though trying to get to the truth by finding the most suitable script. One way or another, whether by dint of mechanical failure or of a conspiratorial something-else, Mattei was taken down. This becomes the take-off for a consideration of everything surrounding Mattei and what he represents: Italy’s past hopefulness and national spirit (during the war Mattei had fought in the Resistance), a growth of experience in capital investment in public companies, and the corruption into which Italy’s postwar economic recovery summarily fell, and the exploitation of Third World oil resources that the new global fascism required. Rosi and his writers, including Tonino Guerra, take their largest aim at capitalism and the means by which it prevails. What, if anything, lay behind Mattei’s death? None of the film is idle speculation, because the analysis it ultimately provides illuminates Mattei’s life, not death, and his corporate empire-building (in what the state intended to be its own operation).
     This piecing together of a man’s life owes a debt, of course, to Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as well as Rosi’s own past work, all the while aiming at a nation-as-pilgrim’s progress. Rosi’s Communist heart weighs the price to Italy’s soul of postwar upturn. Il caso Mattei is the ultimate Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The patient has recovered; but is the patient at all the same person?

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