Each decade the British Film Institute’s magazine Sight and Sound polls key figures from the industry to crown a film as ‘the greatest of all time’. In tandem with this survey, the publication prints a selection of lists from a cross-section of directors, simultaneously showing how the overall data was compiled and giving a window into key creative figures’ influences. Amongst the films cited by Martin Scorsese was the gritty 1962 neo-realist docu-drama Salvatore Giuliano.
On the morning of 5th July 1950 the body of Sicilian bandit Salvatore Giuliano was found in a courtyard. The leader of a local gang of outlaws from 1943 until his death. The township of Castelvetrano and its surrounding villages saw him as a mythic hero who fought valiantly in the quest for Sicilian independence. A Robin Hood for the post-war era pitched in direct conflict with a tyrannical political regime which refused to recognize the region’s right to self-govern. Separatist sentiments were encouraged during the allied invasion of 1943.
Four years later, eleven people were slain and thirty-three wounded during Mayday celebrations. Twelve days after a leftist coalition was elected to govern the region a cross-section of the populace was preparing to follow the annual parade. A speaker from the local Communist party began to address the crowd when shots ran out from the surrounding hills. In the massacre, four children lost their lives.
Taking full responsibility for the atrocity, Giuliano wrote an open letter that was published in several newspapers which stated his intention was to disrupt the political gathering, not to murder innocent citizens. His men, so he claimed, had been instructed to fire their guns into the air.
From this moment onward support for his actions began to wane. Previously loyal champions denounced him and a cash bounty was offered by the Italian government for his successful capture.
Fourteen years after that May morning, events were recreated with meticulous attention to detail in the very same region, survivors of that carnage relived the experiences for a feature film that probed with forensic precision the conflicting accounts of Giuliano’s death. Except for two professional actors, Salvo Randone (President of the Court of Assize) and Frank Wolff (Gaspare Pisciotta), the cast is comprised of local citizens, many of whom knew the deceased bandit.
Drawing from court records, the director (Francesco Rosi) constructed a patchwork narrative, inviting the viewer to piece together events and form their own conclusions. Giuliano is largely absent from the film. He is seen as a corpse and briefly in a pan but his influence is writ large into every frame.
A fragmented and subjective narrative is welded together by echoing Citizen Kane‘s investigative approach to constructing a biography. The ‘facts’ surrounding the titular character’s life and death are presented by people acquainted with him.
Regarded by Martin Scorsese as ‘one of the true masters of cinema’ and considered by film critic Derek Malcolm to be ‘the heavy conscience of Italian cinema’ Francesco Rosi is a Golden Lion-winning filmmaker that trained alongside Luchino Visconti. His 1972 feature film The Mattei Affair won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
A politicized director, and a key figure in what he termed as the ‘second phase of neorealism’, Rosi’s films frequently expose corruption at the heart of society. This former lawyer who had previously been an assistant to Antonioni is fêted in his homeland but remains less well known in the UK possibly due to the unavailability of his films. Redressing that imbalance, Arrow Films release of a restored Salvatore Giuliano demonstrates that the movie, and Rosi’s singular vision, continues to be felt in Italian cinema and TV. From Gomorrah to Romanzo criminale, the contemporary gangster genre’s DNA is built upon this film’s legacy.
To accompany the film, Arrow has assembled an extensive collection of bonus content, delving deep into the myth behind the man, alongside a wealth of material covering the film.