The Mattei Affair (1972) | OBSCURE PICKS
The Mattei Affair (1972) was awarded at Cannes Film Festival in 1972 with Palme D’Or which was also given for Elio Petri’s The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971) which Gian Maria Volonté also starred in. It is not a widely known Italian classic.
One day, an airplane with a prominent public administrator Enrico Mattei (Gian Maria Volonté) aboard crashes and all passengers get killed. At the onset, it seems to be an accident, but the further the investigation creeps, the more mysterious everything appears…
“It is an opus of immaculate argumentation and narrative brilliance”
The director of The Mattei Affair Francesco Rosi never shied away from dealing with contentious individuals in his movies e.g. in the case of his Salvatore Giuliano (1962). In 1972, he chose to scrutinise the enigmatic case of Enrico Mattei’s death which had become an object of heated disputes and numerous presumptions. Nevertheless, but for Rosi’s proficient mise-en-scene, the flick would not have been so engaging. To my mind, it is an opus of immaculate argumentation and narrative brilliance which captivates with its miraculous buoyancy.
Enrico Mattei was a leader of Agip (Azienda Generale Italiana Petroli – General Italian Oil Company) which successively coalesced with ENI whose president was Mattei. The motion picture strains to encompass the entire international career of Mattei who embarked on being a significant persona within Italian society owing to his contribution to revitalisation of Italian industry by underpinning it with Agip’s gas provisions. In 1945, Mattei who was assigned to liquidate the former fascist company (Agip) began to reconstruct and develop it. In 1949, he stated that there are considerable amounts of methane and oil in the Po Valley in Northern Italy. As a matter of fact, there was a miniscule quantity of oil, but the financial value of Agip greatly increased and its equipages of gas were invaluable for developing Italian industry. Upon being merged with Agip, ENI which was absolutely supervised by Mattei made up its mind to expand its boundaries beyond Italy and be more attentive to international oil markets.
The Rosi’s pic alludes to multiple matters concerning him such as a famed fable about two dogs and a little cat frequently told by Mattei, Americans’ malevolence towards his actions and other valuable pieces of information indispensable to fully grasp this politically moot silhouette and the ruthless oil industry. So as to eschew monotony, the material is initiated with a scene indirectly portraying the shady accident involving Mattei, occurrences after it and subsequently proceeds to recounting events which transpired prior to the utter calamity. The non-linear narration consigns a swift, but exceptionally comprehensible, eupeptic and not precipitate pacing which prevents the work from dragging. In order to enhance the sensation of realism, Mr Rosi exhibits a cinematic probe which intertwines with staging sequences regarding Mattei’s figure. Rosi craftily grounds the anti-imperialistic message with cohesive and very confident storytelling, exquisite selection of themes concerning Mattei, deft photography and imaginative visualisation of the main concept.
What might arise as some sort of nuisance is the atypical composition and lack of divergent characters. Yet, in my view, even though the film is not a documentary in the strict meaning of this term, I feel that other heroes seem redundant and apparently so does Mr Rosi. Instead of diffusing the major subject, he whittles down the number of scenes grappling with different stories and issues and focuses on Mattei’s past, decisions, political swagger as well as unflagging force of his nature. This is a masterstroke which exceedingly reinforces The Mattei Affair, endows it with a sense of self-control and drains it from any kind of digressiveness which would promptly embalm the effort.
Gian Maria Volonté is phenomenal as Enrico Mattei. He flawlessly conveys an amalgamation of impudence and fear in his role which may not be that extraordinary, yet Volonté infuses such an invigorating portion of acting craftsmanship that this impersonation acquires a tangible outline which one can touch, scan at and perceive. Besides, there is none other than Volonté to genuinely dilate upon as other members of the cast (rightly) remain in his shadow, but one is enabled to discern such slick performers as Renato Romano, Alessio Baume and even Francesco Rosi playing himself.
The cinematography by Pasqualino De Santis, responsible for filming highly stylised Visconti’s Death in Venice (1971), beauteously accompanies Mattei’s adventure through disparate countries, suffusing the celluloid with orange and yellow tints during night sequences – there is an copiously shot instant in which Mattei exposes his oil business in Africa to a journalist. The memorable scene taking place at night is lit only by ignited gas spurting out of desert soil – it looks straightforward, but likewise quite resplendent in its simplicity. I found myself pretty electrified by Piero Piccioni’s pulsating soundtrack slightly resembling an idling helicopter. The music adequately satiates the flick with a misgiving implying something menacing lurking beyond the gleam of movie camera.
The Mattei Affair continues being virtually unknown which may stem from the fact that to thoroughly appreciate Rosi’s piece of debunking political cinema, it is compulsive to get to know the history of Italy better. Insipid as it might seem, The Mattei Affair is brimming with intelligence and truly rivets like a top-notch thriller with its uncanny, refreshing form and intriguing topic. Last but not least, The Mattei Affair implicates a strong leading character – as I see it, something which Salvatore Giuliano cannot pride itself on.
Verdict: 7/10 stars – very good