Illustrious Corpses

01/05/2020

The Implicative Gaze

While it is common enough to talk of the self-reflexive camera and the means by which a filmmaker can draw the viewer into an experience, to make one aware that we are watching the film by breaking the fourth wall or by a character telling us ironically about the action on screen, less commonly discussed is what we will call the implicative camera, and see it most especially in the context of Francesco Rosi’s Illustrious Corpses. When Anna Karina looks directly at the camera in Vivre sa vie, or when Woody Allen turns to the audience in Annie Hall, saying if only life could be like this as Marshall McLuhan tells a blowhard he is ignorant of the former’s work, we are in self-reflexive moments quite distinct from each other but self-reflexive nevertheless. Rosi’s use of the camera is very different, close to, and yet very distinct from, the camera utilised in horror films which implicate the viewer in the action rather than distance one from it. When a character walks home in Halloween, is this merely the camera following her movements or is it the point of view of a character within the diegesis? But if Rosi’s is paranoiac cinema at its best, it is based less on following a character than observing the events from a distance that a bullet will close. Like a number of seventies films including The Parallax View, The Conversation and even Nashville, we have the feeling that the events aren’t just being depicted they are being observed, and out of that observation comes a violence that doesn’t involve us in the action but implicates us in the deed. One can think of the wonderful and lengthy scene near the end of The Parallax View where one sees the preparations for a Democratic Convention, often in longshot, viewed not from central character Frady’s point of view (he is occasionally in the shot) but from a seeing eye that we sense but can’t locate. 

In Illustrious Corpses, the film develops this implicative perspective over the course of its duration so that a long shot early on carries different connotations from a long shot late in the film. It is perhaps halfway through where this becomes clear and long before that when it becomes a possibility. When about fifteen minutes in, the central character Rogas (Lino Ventura) walks up a few steps in Naples following one of the judges into a bank, the camera remains at a telephoto remove, and rather than moving towards a closer shot of either Rogas or the judge, instead the camera remains at a distance and pans right to take in the edge of the building. The film then cuts to a long shot of the bank and the camera zooms slowly in through one of the bank’s vast windows, a bullet penetrating both the glass and the judge’s body. Though we can’t see Rogas’s face in the shot, we can make him out in the background by the black trousers, grey suit jacket and black tie. He may not be discernible in the frame to many watching, and obviously not the target of the bullet, but it is perhaps the first moment where we see that the cinematic and the murderous come together: that he too might eventually become the target of the camera and of the bullet. Later this idea of the camera and the bullet is unequivocally evident when a fourth judge gets killed, not long after Rogas visits him. There the judge Rasto is in the bathroom, about to wash his hands for the umpteenth time in a gesture that can’t help but recall Lady Macbeth, and the film moves from medium shot to long shot, from the judge standing in front of the mirror to an exterior shot as the camera moves laterally in the distance. Again we cut to the medium shot of the judge in the bathroom, to a medium shot of the exterior. The camera zooms in rapidly enough momentarily to lose focus, before the film cuts to the judge at the sink yet again. We hear the sound of a bullet and the judge really does now have blood on his hands, as it drips from out of the frame before a medium long shot shows the judge falling back from the sink and onto the floor, dead. 

If we were in any doubt before that the camera wasn’t just following the story but implicating us in the point of view of the assassin’s gaze, then this killing dispels it. From hereon we will both be following our central character’s determination to solve the case but also following a gaze upon him that could be the assassin’s bullet at any moment. In this story about a police detective called upon to resolve a case that is predicated on three suspects, so the film moves away from the specifics of a seemingly limited pool of possible killers to an enormous number of implicated characters involved in political machinations. A contained story need not implicate both society and the viewer, and the film could have focused on the reason why three people who saw themselves as victims of the judicial system might get their revenge by killing judges who were responsible for putting them away. But for Rosi, this is only half the story, a convenient tale that the authorities wish to tell and that initially Rogas seems willing to follow to contain the case within the sort of limits that will show him as the very astute detective he happens to be. Yet Rosi’s interest is less in the detective thriller than the socially conspiratorial, a ‘genre’ especially popular around the seventies and evident in films from the US, France and Italy especially, and which would include Rosi’s own The Mattei Affair and Pakula’s aforementioned The Parallax View, but also Pakula’s All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, Black Sunday, Blow Out, Z and State of Siege. The films can range from the aesthetically predictable within the brilliantly crude (Black Sunday, Blow Out), to the logistically complex (Z) and the architecturally ominous: The Parallax View and Illustrious Corpses especially. The further the films get from the diegetically contained conspiratorial and to the logistically and architecturally baroque the better the film is likely to be, and few films in this sense are better than Illustrious Corpses. The director may be correct in saying that, “I believe in the power of the visual. The cinema is images” (Monthly Film Bulletin), but there is more to it than that, and to help us understand the excellence of this film about corpses we can do worse than address some thoughts offered by Laura Mulvey, Michel Foucault, Tzvetan Todorov and Fredric Jameson.

When Mulvey famously proposed that “in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to a female figure which is styled accordingly” ('Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’), she had an important point to make and one that hasn’t gone away. But there are numerous gazes in cinema, however pronounced the one she happened to find. Would it be useful to say that Rosi adopts a male gaze because it is certainly not a female one; indeed women are almost entirely absent from the film even as passive objects? Rogas’s ex-wife is no more than an acousmatic presence, a voice who isn’t seen, an harassing absence as Rogas works on the case and his wife asks when he last saw his son and if he can sort out the school fees. The judges who are killed have no women in their lives that impact on the story. The most vivid female presence is a brief role by Tina Aumont, a prostitute who sashays into the interrogator’s office ready to turn a trick rather than offer a confession. There is no doubt in this moment that the male gaze is prominent. The long-lens languorously watches her move from the bed in the room next door to the office with not a single moment when Aumont doesn’t present herself as an object for any male gaze that wants to take a peek. Yet whose eye is upon her as camera gaze we might wonder, as the closest to a man in her eyeline would be Rogas even if the camera, as it enters the room in a reverse dolly, indicates no particular point of view. The other men may be looking at her but Rogas is the one sitting there where the camera would be when she gets up off the bed and puts on her high heels. Little is made of this moment but Rogas is estranged from his wife and has no sexual encounters in the film, and Aumont’s character is presented as a very sexual presence indeed. But rather than saying this is the male gaze upon the woman we might insist instead that if it is anybody’s gaze upon her it is Rogas’s, and gazes in this film matter perspectivally. One wants to know who is doing the looking. Rosi’s skill is using the camera not only to probe the events it shows us but also to wonder why the camera occupies the position it does. When he talks about the importance of the visual, that the cinema is images, Rosi also asks us to muse over where these images are to be located. Since so many other shots in the film make us wonder about the gaze upon a character or situation, then we may ask it in this instance too, and conclude that while the shot fulfils the requirements of the male gaze it does so while wondering who is doing the gazing. From one perspective Aumont’s brief role can seem like lazy cinematic short-hand, a striking cameo in a film full of well-known seventies arthouse actors (Fernando Rey, Marcel Buzzofi, Max von Sydow)  and allows Aumont a brief role as the sex siren she would often play in films like Lifespan, Casanova, Salon Kitty and others. Yet this seems like a moment where Rogas is doing the looking without reducing it to a point of view shot that a counter shot would have confirmed. She is an object of attention in a film that happens to be interested in this attentiveness. For Mulvey the male gaze is taken for granted, unassumingly naturalised and therein lies its problem; for Rosi the gaze is a constant probe. Instead of suggesting that there are male and female gazes there is the gaze of power that goes beyond the binary that privileges the male, and towards a look that emphasises the invisibility of power.

Mulvey’s essay was published in 1975, the same year as Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish, and both a few months before Illustrious Corpses came out in February 1976. We needn’t be too determined to insist this was the moment when the gaze went global, when who happened to be doing the looking was more important than what was looked at. If for many years film had prompted the view that stardom was the thing, that what mattered was how you attracted the attention of others and that perhaps culminated in Warhol’s claim, in 1968, that soon enough everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes, then Foucault much more broadly than Mulvey wondered whether what mattered was less seeking the adoring eyes of others upon us, than the difficulty in escaping the unseen gaze upon everyone that had been evident in various forms for centuries but that advanced technology was making all the more clear. Looking at the question historically in the wake of the enlightenment, Foucault noted: “…Panopticism constituted the technique, universally widespread, of coercion. It continued to work in depth on the juridical structures of society, in order to make the effective mechanisms of power function in opposition to the formal framework that it had acquired. The ‘Enlightenment’ which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines.” Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon proposed a disciplinary system based on a circular tower that could look at all the cells simultaneously without the prisoners being able to see who was in the tower. The prisoners would be subjected to an unending gaze without being able to look back. Indeed the gaze didn’t even require a subject; the prisoners just needed to feel they were being looked upon. In this sense Rosi’s camera too is panoptic, in the sense that the director shows us a gaze that isn’t returned but remains stranded cinematically as Rosi registers less his power as a director and the power of a look upon the world that is disembodied, depersonalised and fatal. If looks can kill, Rosi finds the formal means with which to suggest it. The panoptican indicates a surveillance society that Rosi also utilises and that Mary P. Wood in her article on Italian conspiracy films of the seventies points out. “The scale of surveillance is indicated via repetition of television screens and the burble of tape recordings” (‘Revealing the Hidden City’) as we see students watched and various people’s words recorded. But Rosi goes further by indicating that while surveillance is consistent with Bentham’s vision, the development of long lens technology meeting the firearm can give to Rosi’s use of the telephoto lens a proper sense of menace. Is this a long lens looking at a character or is it a rifleman’s eye trained upon an imminent victim? 

Todorov differentiates between the whodunnit and the thriller, seeing in the former an investigation that needn’t harm the investigating protagonist.  “Nothing can happen to them, a rule of the genre postulates the detective’s immunity. We cannot imagine Hercule Poirot or Philo Vance threatened by some anger, attacked, wounded, even killed.” (‘Detective Fiction’) In contrast, the detective fiction Todorov looks at from the US, and especially in the post-war years, shows that where earlier the emphasis was on curiosity as the detective investigates a case, now it happens to be on suspense. In the whodunnit “nothing could happen to them. The situation is reversed in the thriller: everything is possible and the detective risks his health, if not his life.” Wood talks about Todorov too in the context of Rosi, but what interests us chiefly is the means by which Rosi doesn’t just put the detective at risk as many a thriller will do. (Indeed one of the key differences between an Agatha Christie book and an Alfred Hitchcock film isn’t only between prose and cinema but between epistemological passivity and ongoing threat.) It is that this threat finds a correlative in the very form. It is one thing to know you are being watched at all times as evident with the panopticon and the cyclopic eye of surveillance but the telephoto lens attached to a sniper rifle not only watches but can kill too. The invasion of privacy the panopticon proposes is then exacerbated by the tension involved in an optical death sentence. One may just be watched, but one may also be killed. This becomes all the more pronounced in drone technology, but the problem resides in the passive/active gap Todorov speaks about but given a twist. If in the traditional whodunnit Poirot is under no threat, as he investigates the case, then in Illustrious Corpses it is the killer who is impervious to the suspense as he remains an invisible presence taking out other people, including our hero. 

Yet films like Illustrious Corpses, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Parallax View and All the President’s Men also contain an architectural dimension that suggests the environment possesses its own threats, as if the buildings haven’t been designed to house people’s needs but to entrap them in corporate confinement. When Rogas goes out onto his balcony what he sees is what we see: numerous blocks of concrete looking back at him, an impregnable fortress that isn’t a world of a difference from the prison we see much earlier in the film as Rogas interviews a member of the mafia. The former may be a prison and the latter a block of flats, but block seems the operative word in both instances: a place of restriction rather than one of freedom. Yet the older building is designed to house prisoners, an island jail one can’t easily escape. The building Rogas lives in creates an even greater problem from a certain point of view because it isn’t designed to incarcerate but to allow for occupation, an ostensibly much gentler means of dwelling. Yet just as the panopticon starts in prison and becomes later a surveillance system observing the ostensibly free, so housing comes to resemble the architecture of incarceration. When Rogas steps out onto the balcony, clearly worried now that he could be an assassin’s target, he looks around him and up at the skies. All we see within the shot is a completely enclosed space, flats to the left and the right and in front of him with no other view but more apartments. There is no high street to look out upon, not even alternative architecture to see; just an oppressive series of flats which are identical to his own. Just as the film explores the corridors of power, when for example Rogas visits the Supreme Court’s president (Max von Sydow), so too it delineates the corridors of oppression that needn’t be limited to the prison system itself. Jameson speaks about the disjunction you can find in many examples of modern architecture that differs from the sourcing city, noticing an act of “disjunction which was violent, visible, and had a very real symbolic significance —as in Le Corbusier’s great pilotis, whose gesture radically separates the new Utopian space of the modern from the degraded and fallen city fabric which it thereby explicitly repudiates…” (Postmodern, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism) Yet what we can see too is that Rogas only sees the nature of this architectural tyranny after he begins to feel that his investigation to find out the truth is irrelevant next to the maintenance of certain power structures. How many times must he have walked out on to that balcony in the past and seen nothing more than a block of apartments? The block becomes impregnable, a space that suggests no easy exit. 

The scene comes after we’ve seen Rogas speak to the Supreme Court president, after he goes to an upmarket party with many of Napoli’s powerful in attendance, and after he has handed in a letter of resignation to the security minister. indeed, the first shot we see after Rogas visits the minister’s office is Rogas getting out of a taxi and arriving at a series of apartment blocks that resemble Le Corbusier at his harshest. Architecture really does seem to generate oppression, but we have had hints of it much earlier in the film, when for example Rogas sees one of the three people who would seem to have a gripe against the judges. Here buildings are incomplete skeletons of their future selves while surrounding them are temporary huts and dwellings. Rosi suggests the people may gain in municipal housing but wonders what will be lost in the process of this gain. Echoing his early sixties film, Hands Over the City, which looked at large-scale profiteering in the housing sector, here Rosi puts the housing question quite literally in the background but does so in a manner which nevertheless suggests that, when the conspiratorial becomes evident, the blocks of concrete represent the magnitude of Rogas’s task. Yet this might seem like empty symbolism if it weren’t for the reality of the apartments that Rosi films, found realities which remain metonymic rather than metaphoric, a partialised actuality rather than an abstract thematic or narrative imposition. In other words, if Rosi were to impose these actualities from elsewhere (from a completely different city or country), or if he were to insist on a categorically conspiratorial plot, the architecture wouldn’t come out of the environment but be imposed upon it, and the story wouldn’t be about the specifics of place but a general notion of the conspiratorial. The film could have been much more conclusive but it wouldn’t possess the actuality of time and place. As Wood, says, “when the tangentapali scandals broke in 1992-93 and edition after edition of the daily papers and monthly magazines revealed the ramifications of corruption in Italian society, interest inevitably focused on films of the 1960s and 1970s which had earlier tried to expose the misuse of power by a governing class.” Wood also says “Francesco Rosi's 1963 film, Le mani sulla citta, [Hands over the City] was reissued and the scene where the right-wing Neapolitan councillors are accused of manipulating building licences and wave their hands in the air to demonstrate their cleanliness, became a familiar clip on the small screen.” (‘Revealing the HiddenCity’) “Rosi’s film could not name names…” she says, but he could film places. The implicative camera thus also includes an implicative architecture too: the very material reality out of which corruption shapes the world. When Rogas moves through the city wondering who is out to get him, he is moving through the very spaces that have been corruptly put in place before him. He is trapped in more ways than one, and Rosi’s purpose is to suggest any investigation is secondary to the investigation of power that includes Rogas within the diegesis but that the implicative camera views beyond it.  

“The audience should not be passive spectators”, Rosi insisted, in an article that goes under that heading. “After the first phase of neo-realism, there was a second phase which consisted of a time for reflection and a critical examination of the first phase. In the beginning, neo-realism involved only the attempt to be a witness to reality, with no critical perspective, just a desire to record reality. But this was not enough. After a while, neo-realism had become fashionable, it was just another mode — you had a pre-determined format and all you had to do was put all the neo-realistic gimmicks into this format.” (Cineaste) Rosi sought an investigative structure that would echo his own investigation into the incidents surrounding the films he was making. We can return here briefly to Todorov and his distinction between the detective story where the investigator needn’t be in danger and the detective (or for that matter any other character inquiring into a situation) who is. Indeed, Rosi pushed this quite far in his earlier The Mattei Affair, a fictional account of a well-known Italian industrialist who died in mysterious circumstance. By the end of the film, after the kidnapping of a journalist, Mauro De Mauro, involved in the film’s production, Rosi puts himself on screen, a filmmaker in the process of making a film that could cost him his life. (The journalist’s body was never found.) But Rosi goes further aesthetically in Illustrious Corpses by suggesting not only is Rogas in danger as he enquires into the case but that the film itself is part of that sense of danger as it incorporates a non-diegetic dimension too. It is one thing to feel that Rogas is under threat but it is another to know that a bullet could take out our central character at any moment from our point of view. If Godard could recklessly and wittily break the fourth wall by insisting the character look directly at the lens and thus at the viewer, Rosi, instead suggests the viewer isn’t so much part of the film as a self-reflexive attempt at distanciation but part of society that indicates implication

When numerous critics attacked Rosi in the seventies for not being radical enough, next to Godard, the Straubs, Fassbinder and Makavejev, for example, it might be fairer to say that he was not radical enough in a particular direction. Ted Perry insisted that “no matter how radical the ideas, no matter how complex and inaccessible the truth, the syntax or form of the film remains within conventional bounds. That does not mean Rosi’s films are conventional, but rather that the aspirations of the thematic material are more radical than the cinematic form.” (Cinema: A Critical Dictionary) It was a criticism levelled at not only Rosi but also Costa-Gavras (Z and State of Siege) and Gillo Pontecorvo (Battle of Algiers and Burn), but it seems that if the criticism was finally unfair it was because these three filmmakers, while never breaking the diegetic contract, at the same time wanted to firm up the social contract in which the films found themselves in various ways trying to defend. But such a defence in Rosi’s case, and specifically in Illustrious Corpses, manages to indicate that the social contract and the diegetic contract can be closely related without creating a radical distanciation in the viewing experience.  

At one moment, the supreme court judge (Von Sydow) insists that when a judge passes sentence he cannot be in any doubt concerning the decision he has made because he isn’t a man sentencing someone to prison but a member of the state playing his role. To call into question the judgements made, undermines the system that must remain in place. Is it better that a miscarriage of justice calls into disrepute the whole institutional structure or better that the occasional innocent person ends up wrongly imprisoned? The Supreme Court president drawing analogies with a priest says that the judicial system like the Catholic church gains nothing from doubt. “When a judge delivers the law he is exactly like a priest officiating at mass. A judge may have doubts, he may question himself, even torment himself, but at the very moment he delivers judgement he can’t harbour doubts. At that moment justice is done.” The president starts railing against modern thinkers including Sartre and Marcuse who undermine such authority, tracing such roots to Voltaire who by questioning authority subsequently undermines it. What is the point of freedom the president seems to imply if it debilitates institutions, if it leads to the chaos he believes is evident in the seventies Italy he is judicially presiding over? A miscarriage of justice revealed is all very well for the individual who gets released but it is a broader disaster because people no longer have faith in the institution of the law. A troublemaker must be found and found guilty so the law can return to normal. Its purpose isn’t the guilt or innocence of individuals, it is the affirmation of the state. The supreme court judge’s speech is radical in its content but Rosi films it quite conventionally. Usually medium close-ups and shot counter-shots present the argument. But the implications of the speech are given cinematic form elsewhere, of course, through the implicative camera that leaves us on the side of the societal, aware that the camera could become a gun at any moment, that we aren’t only watching the film but watching an imminent demise, just as judge Rasto was killed from the same place that we the viewer happened to be looking. If the film in that instance had cut to a counter-shot of the assassin, the implication would have been removed and the character responsible for the action. But by insisting that the assassin remains invisible throughout, our implication is all the greater. If Mulvey proposes that we are positioned within a male gaze cinema that leaves us watching as a man even if we are a woman, Rosi suggests that in the implicative gaze he offers that we are all framed as murderers because we are both citizens of the state and also viewers of the film. We oughtn’t to exaggerate this implication; Rosi is hardly claiming that the viewer watching the film carries the responsibility of those who are behind the execution of the judges. But in a strict sense, the viewer too is also behind the killings, quite literally so as cinematic form welds itself to diegetic event. Whoever is behind the killings is also behind the camera, and who is behind the camera in very different roles is not only Rosi the filmmaker shooting the film, the assassin shooting Rogas and the judges, but also the viewer looking on from the same position.

Rosi’s purpose isn’t to hyperbolise this question but he does at least want to address it, to say that implications take many forms. When discussing the meagre number of screenings both The Mattei Affair received stateside despite the praise and awards the film garnered, he mused, "yes, for Mattei Affair, I think it's fairly easy to understand, at least I think so, but I'm not sure. I mean, you know - Paramount, Gulf and Western…maybe no, maybe…I mean, here was a film that won the Grand Prize at Cannes, but it was released suddenly, without publicity, without saying anything about it.” (Cineaste) After all, The Mattei Affair is about a famous Italian oilman who defended Italy’s petroleum industries against US influence and who died mysteriously in an air crash. When Rosi wonders whether his film wasn’t given much distribution was it because of the close links between Hollywood and the oil industries so clearly evident in Paramount, Gulf and Western? Perhaps, but again Rosi is wary of making claims that he can’t back up evidentially, just as we have noted in The Mattei Affair he also muses within the diegesis about the disappearance of Mauro de Mauro. Was this investigation of the Mattei affair literally the death of de Mauro? Rosi cannot say but he can imply that given a certain set of circumstances it wouldn’t be unlikely. What Rosi needs to do is frame a question in a way that it can be asked but not necessarily answered, asking the viewer to have a sceptical relationship with information, but obviously what makes Illustrious Corpses especially cinematic is that this extends to the very images Rosi offers to us. Writing on the film in a detailed and engaged piece on terrorism in cinema, Alan O’Leary says “the film is a fable about the strategy of tension and its plot concerns the discovery of a conspiracy – a planned military coup – by a detective investigating a series of murders. However, Rosi shows Italian democracy to have already been compromised by corruption, by state collusion with the mafia, and by the oppressive presence of surveillance (the latter is expressed in passages of great formal brilliance including a highly unusual sound design). Cadaveri eccellenti portrays Italian society as a kind of panoptical prison from which escape is impossible and in which political opposition is a convenient pretext for repression.” O’Leary also reckons, “The use of conspiracy theory in this and other Italian films in the 1970s and since gives expression to disquiet or dissatisfaction about the manner in which Italy has been governed…but it may also risk ascribing an exaggerated competence and potency to the conspirators, in this case the representatives of the Italian ruling order. If the conspirators’ will is shown to be irresistible, then resistance to it is pointless, and political activism or reformist aspiration is thereby allegorized as vain.” (‘Italian cinema and the anni de piombo’) O’Leary here however seems to be placing the socio-political over the aesthetic and while we wouldn’t want to claim that Rosi’s cinema ought to be apolitical all the better to be cinematic, we might not agree that such an approach to the conspiratorial is likely to lead to a diminishing interest in political analysis. Surely a film that solves the conspiracy, that allows for a heroic resolution within the diegesis is more likely to curtail political engagement since the film has solved the very problem it has addressed. Even O’Leary’s plot description gives to the story an assertiveness Rosi’s aesthetic deliberately withholds. Rogas is far from in every scene but he is the only character to whom the story is being worked through. When he is killed so the investigation ends, and certain information can only remain speculative, with the chief inspector’s interpretation “that Rogas had just returned from a very stressful mission to find the judges’ killer. When he returned to the capital he showed signs of mental imbalance, as a result he was placed on leave. He was seeing plots everywhere and started looking for non-existent evidence.” Accordingly, he believed the Communist leader was probably involved in the plot too and killed him, so says the chief inspector. We know this isn’t true, even if we don’t know what exactly happens to be the case, so that this isn’t at all a clarifying coda but a mystifying addition to the falsehoods that entangled Rogas. When the tanks are on the streets and the people are in the square, we aren’t sure what will happen next. Will the crowds react in a way that justifies a military coup? We can’t say for certain but we can note that the film ends tactically. Rogas’s communist friend and a comrade discuss what should be done, whether an extreme reaction from the communists will play into the hands of far-right forces.

Rosi throws the question back at the viewer rather than allowing a clear conclusion, but then this is what the film in its various manifestations has been doing throughout. Rogas wasn’t just the detective who might solve the case, he was also and even especially the figure within the frame, the one who could lead us towards the centre of a labyrinth without solution. Combining the Foucauldian Panopticon gaze of the unseeing eye which suggests immense power, with the detective ever more powerless as he is far more endangered than even Todorov might have imagined, Illustrious Corpses asks cinema to be a means by which to ask questions that must also incorporate within that questioning its own form. Yet this needn’t lead to a Brechtian cinema based on distanciation but instead a particular form of implicative immediacy. Mulvey’s important theoretical probe rested on how we are positioned as viewers, picking up on numerous claims made theoretically in the late sixties and early seventies that the viewer may have been a passive spectator in their cinema seats but they were actively generated ideological beings by virtue of the images created for them. Rosi wouldn’t disagree with this claim but his answer isn’t simply an escape from neo-realistic truth to a self-reflexive radicalisation of the form; he finds in the neo-realistic the documentative truth that will then be called into question by the narrative imposed upon it. When, early in the film, Rogas enquires into one of the judge’s deaths, Rogas asks a peasant what he was like. The peasant replies, “like this town, just what they wanted”, as the camera cuts from the man speaking to a reverse high-angle shot from behind the peasant’s back, one that rises further and shows us the town he is speaking of, a clustered collection of cramped, high rise housing blocks that Jameson would we are sure have something to say about. We might struggle to find the truth in the story told but we can see with our own eyes the architectural reality that many are forced to live under. O’Leary’s article is an excellent account of the terrorist period from 1969 to 1983, and a fine examination of the films that focused on that period — from Rosi’s own Three Brothers to The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man to Romanzo Criminale. But Illustrious Corpses’s capacity to incorporate the panopticon vision (that O’Leary acknowledges), to give to the gaze a twist indicating its murderousness,  to extend the Todorovian distinction between a detective solving the case, endangered or otherwise, to incorporating within that danger the very form itself, and, finally, to insist on utilising the architecture of the city, suggests greater ambition than O’Leary is willing to credit the film with possessing. Rosi may claim that he believes in the “power of the visual” but we find too a filmmaker utilising a form which shows the visual that exposes power, without finding answers out of that exposure. 

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Illustrious Corpses

The Implicative Gaze

While it is common enough to talk of the self-reflexive camera and the means by which a filmmaker can draw the viewer into an experience, to make one aware that we are watching the film by breaking the fourth wall or by a character telling us ironically about the action on screen, less commonly discussed is what we will call the implicative camera, and see it most especially in the context of Francesco Rosi's Illustrious Corpses. When Anna Karina looks directly at the camera in Vivre sa vie, or when Woody Allen turns to the audience in Annie Hall, saying if only life could be like this as Marshall McLuhan tells a blowhard he is ignorant of the former's work, we are in self-reflexive moments quite distinct from each other but self-reflexive nevertheless. Rosi's use of the camera is very different, close to, and yet very distinct from, the camera utilised in horror films which implicate the viewer in the action rather than distance one from it. When a character walks home in Halloween, is this merely the camera following her movements or is it the point of view of a character within the diegesis? But if Rosi's is paranoiac cinema at its best, it is based less on following a character than observing the events from a distance that a bullet will close. Like a number of seventies films including The Parallax View, The Conversation and even Nashville, we have the feeling that the events aren't just being depicted they are being observed, and out of that observation comes a violence that doesn't involve us in the action but implicates us in the deed. One can think of the wonderful and lengthy scene near the end of The Parallax View where one sees the preparations for a Democratic Convention, often in longshot, viewed not from central character Frady's point of view (he is occasionally in the shot) but from a seeing eye that we sense but can't locate.

In Illustrious Corpses, the film develops this implicative perspective over the course of its duration so that a long shot early on carries different connotations from a long shot late in the film. It is perhaps halfway through where this becomes clear and long before that when it becomes a possibility. When about fifteen minutes in, the central character Rogas (Lino Ventura) walks up a few steps in Naples following one of the judges into a bank, the camera remains at a telephoto remove, and rather than moving towards a closer shot of either Rogas or the judge, instead the camera remains at a distance and pans right to take in the edge of the building. The film then cuts to a long shot of the bank and the camera zooms slowly in through one of the bank's vast windows, a bullet penetrating both the glass and the judge's body. Though we can't see Rogas's face in the shot, we can make him out in the background by the black trousers, grey suit jacket and black tie. He may not be discernible in the frame to many watching, and obviously not the target of the bullet, but it is perhaps the first moment where we see that the cinematic and the murderous come together: that he too might eventually become the target of the camera and of the bullet. Later this idea of the camera and the bullet is unequivocally evident when a fourth judge gets killed, not long after Rogas visits him. There the judge Rasto is in the bathroom, about to wash his hands for the umpteenth time in a gesture that can't help but recall Lady Macbeth, and the film moves from medium shot to long shot, from the judge standing in front of the mirror to an exterior shot as the camera moves laterally in the distance. Again we cut to the medium shot of the judge in the bathroom, to a medium shot of the exterior. The camera zooms in rapidly enough momentarily to lose focus, before the film cuts to the judge at the sink yet again. We hear the sound of a bullet and the judge really does now have blood on his hands, as it drips from out of the frame before a medium long shot shows the judge falling back from the sink and onto the floor, dead.

If we were in any doubt before that the camera wasn't just following the story but implicating us in the point of view of the assassin's gaze, then this killing dispels it. From hereon we will both be following our central character's determination to solve the case but also following a gaze upon him that could be the assassin's bullet at any moment. In this story about a police detective called upon to resolve a case that is predicated on three suspects, so the film moves away from the specifics of a seemingly limited pool of possible killers to an enormous number of implicated characters involved in political machinations. A contained story need not implicate both society and the viewer, and the film could have focused on the reason why three people who saw themselves as victims of the judicial system might get their revenge by killing judges who were responsible for putting them away. But for Rosi, this is only half the story, a convenient tale that the authorities wish to tell and that initially Rogas seems willing to follow to contain the case within the sort of limits that will show him as the very astute detective he happens to be. Yet Rosi's interest is less in the detective thriller than the socially conspiratorial, a 'genre' especially popular around the seventies and evident in films from the US, France and Italy especially, and which would include Rosi's own The Mattei Affair and Pakula's aforementioned The Parallax View, but also Pakula's All the President's Men, Three Days of the Condor, Black Sunday, Blow Out, Z and State of Siege. The films can range from the aesthetically predictable within the brilliantly crude (Black Sunday, Blow Out), to the logistically complex (Z) and the architecturally ominous: The Parallax View and Illustrious Corpses especially. The further the films get from the diegetically contained conspiratorial and to the logistically and architecturally baroque the better the film is likely to be, and few films in this sense are better than Illustrious Corpses. The director may be correct in saying that, "I believe in the power of the visual. The cinema is images" (Monthly Film Bulletin), but there is more to it than that, and to help us understand the excellence of this film about corpses we can do worse than address some thoughts offered by Laura Mulvey, Michel Foucault, Tzvetan Todorov and Fredric Jameson.

When Mulvey famously proposed that "in a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female. The determining male gaze projects its phantasy on to a female figure which is styled accordingly" ('Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema'), she had an important point to make and one that hasn't gone away. But there are numerous gazes in cinema, however pronounced the one she happened to find. Would it be useful to say that Rosi adopts a male gaze because it is certainly not a female one; indeed women are almost entirely absent from the film even as passive objects? Rogas's ex-wife is no more than an acousmatic presence, a voice who isn't seen, an harassing absence as Rogas works on the case and his wife asks when he last saw his son and if he can sort out the school fees. The judges who are killed have no women in their lives that impact on the story. The most vivid female presence is a brief role by Tina Aumont, a prostitute who sashays into the interrogator's office ready to turn a trick rather than offer a confession. There is no doubt in this moment that the male gaze is prominent. The long-lens languorously watches her move from the bed in the room next door to the office with not a single moment when Aumont doesn't present herself as an object for any male gaze that wants to take a peek. Yet whose eye is upon her as camera gaze we might wonder, as the closest to a man in her eyeline would be Rogas even if the camera, as it enters the room in a reverse dolly, indicates no particular point of view. The other men may be looking at her but Rogas is the one sitting there where the camera would be when she gets up off the bed and puts on her high heels. Little is made of this moment but Rogas is estranged from his wife and has no sexual encounters in the film, and Aumont's character is presented as a very sexual presence indeed. But rather than saying this is the male gaze upon the woman we might insist instead that if it is anybody's gaze upon her it is Rogas's, and gazes in this film matter perspectivally. One wants to know who is doing the looking. Rosi's skill is using the camera not only to probe the events it shows us but also to wonder why the camera occupies the position it does. When he talks about the importance of the visual, that the cinema is images, Rosi also asks us to muse over where these images are to be located. Since so many other shots in the film make us wonder about the gaze upon a character or situation, then we may ask it in this instance too, and conclude that while the shot fulfils the requirements of the male gaze it does so while wondering who is doing the gazing. From one perspective Aumont's brief role can seem like lazy cinematic short-hand, a striking cameo in a film full of well-known seventies arthouse actors (Fernando Rey, Marcel Buzzofi, Max von Sydow) and allows Aumont a brief role as the sex siren she would often play in films like Lifespan, Casanova, Salon Kitty and others. Yet this seems like a moment where Rogas is doing the looking without reducing it to a point of view shot that a counter shot would have confirmed. She is an object of attention in a film that happens to be interested in this attentiveness. For Mulvey the male gaze is taken for granted, unassumingly naturalised and therein lies its problem; for Rosi the gaze is a constant probe. Instead of suggesting that there are male and female gazes there is the gaze of power that goes beyond the binary that privileges the male, and towards a look that emphasises the invisibility of power.

Mulvey's essay was published in 1975, the same year as Foucault's book Discipline and Punish, and both a few months before Illustrious Corpses came out in February 1976. We needn't be too determined to insist this was the moment when the gaze went global, when who happened to be doing the looking was more important than what was looked at. If for many years film had prompted the view that stardom was the thing, that what mattered was how you attracted the attention of others and that perhaps culminated in Warhol's claim, in 1968, that soon enough everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes, then Foucault much more broadly than Mulvey wondered whether what mattered was less seeking the adoring eyes of others upon us, than the difficulty in escaping the unseen gaze upon everyone that had been evident in various forms for centuries but that advanced technology was making all the more clear. Looking at the question historically in the wake of the enlightenment, Foucault noted: "...Panopticism constituted the technique, universally widespread, of coercion. It continued to work in depth on the juridical structures of society, in order to make the effective mechanisms of power function in opposition to the formal framework that it had acquired. The 'Enlightenment' which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines." Jeremy Bentham's panopticon proposed a disciplinary system based on a circular tower that could look at all the cells simultaneously without the prisoners being able to see who was in the tower. The prisoners would be subjected to an unending gaze without being able to look back. Indeed the gaze didn't even require a subject; the prisoners just needed to feel they were being looked upon. In this sense Rosi's camera too is panoptic, in the sense that the director shows us a gaze that isn't returned but remains stranded cinematically as Rosi registers less his power as a director and the power of a look upon the world that is disembodied, depersonalised and fatal. If looks can kill, Rosi finds the formal means with which to suggest it. The panoptican indicates a surveillance society that Rosi also utilises and that Mary P. Wood in her article on Italian conspiracy films of the seventies points out. "The scale of surveillance is indicated via repetition of television screens and the burble of tape recordings" ('Revealing the Hidden City') as we see students watched and various people's words recorded. But Rosi goes further by indicating that while surveillance is consistent with Bentham's vision, the development of long lens technology meeting the firearm can give to Rosi's use of the telephoto lens a proper sense of menace. Is this a long lens looking at a character or is it a rifleman's eye trained upon an imminent victim?

Todorov differentiates between the whodunnit and the thriller, seeing in the former an investigation that needn't harm the investigating protagonist. "Nothing can happen to them, a rule of the genre postulates the detective's immunity. We cannot imagine Hercule Poirot or Philo Vance threatened by some anger, attacked, wounded, even killed." ('Detective Fiction') In contrast, the detective fiction Todorov looks at from the US, and especially in the post-war years, shows that where earlier the emphasis was on curiosity as the detective investigates a case, now it happens to be on suspense. In the whodunnit "nothing could happen to them. The situation is reversed in the thriller: everything is possible and the detective risks his health, if not his life." Wood talks about Todorov too in the context of Rosi, but what interests us chiefly is the means by which Rosi doesn't just put the detective at risk as many a thriller will do. (Indeed one of the key differences between an Agatha Christie book and an Alfred Hitchcock film isn't only between prose and cinema but between epistemological passivity and ongoing threat.) It is that this threat finds a correlative in the very form. It is one thing to know you are being watched at all times as evident with the panopticon and the cyclopic eye of surveillance but the telephoto lens attached to a sniper rifle not only watches but can kill too. The invasion of privacy the panopticon proposes is then exacerbated by the tension involved in an optical death sentence. One may just be watched, but one may also be killed. This becomes all the more pronounced in drone technology, but the problem resides in the passive/active gap Todorov speaks about but given a twist. If in the traditional whodunnit Poirot is under no threat, as he investigates the case, then in Illustrious Corpses it is the killer who is impervious to the suspense as he remains an invisible presence taking out other people, including our hero.

Yet films like Illustrious Corpses, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Parallax View and All the President's Men also contain an architectural dimension that suggests the environment possesses its own threats, as if the buildings haven't been designed to house people's needs but to entrap them in corporate confinement. When Rogas goes out onto his balcony what he sees is what we see: numerous blocks of concrete looking back at him, an impregnable fortress that isn't a world of a difference from the prison we see much earlier in the film as Rogas interviews a member of the mafia. The former may be a prison and the latter a block of flats, but block seems the operative word in both instances: a place of restriction rather than one of freedom. Yet the older building is designed to house prisoners, an island jail one can't easily escape. The building Rogas lives in creates an even greater problem from a certain point of view because it isn't designed to incarcerate but to allow for occupation, an ostensibly much gentler means of dwelling. Yet just as the panopticon starts in prison and becomes later a surveillance system observing the ostensibly free, so housing comes to resemble the architecture of incarceration. When Rogas steps out onto the balcony, clearly worried now that he could be an assassin's target, he looks around him and up at the skies. All we see within the shot is a completely enclosed space, flats to the left and the right and in front of him with no other view but more apartments. There is no high street to look out upon, not even alternative architecture to see; just an oppressive series of flats which are identical to his own. Just as the film explores the corridors of power, when for example Rogas visits the Supreme Court's president (Max von Sydow), so too it delineates the corridors of oppression that needn't be limited to the prison system itself. Jameson speaks about the disjunction you can find in many examples of modern architecture that differs from the sourcing city, noticing an act of "disjunction which was violent, visible, and had a very real symbolic significance as in Le Corbusier's great pilotis, whose gesture radically separates the new Utopian space of the modern from the degraded and fallen city fabric which it thereby explicitly repudiates..." (Postmodern, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism) Yet what we can see too is that Rogas only sees the nature of this architectural tyranny after he begins to feel that his investigation to find out the truth is irrelevant next to the maintenance of certain power structures. How many times must he have walked out on to that balcony in the past and seen nothing more than a block of apartments? The block becomes impregnable, a space that suggests no easy exit.

The scene comes after we've seen Rogas speak to the Supreme Court president, after he goes to an upmarket party with many of Napoli's powerful in attendance, and after he has handed in a letter of resignation to the security minister. indeed, the first shot we see after Rogas visits the minister's office is Rogas getting out of a taxi and arriving at a series of apartment blocks that resemble Le Corbusier at his harshest. Architecture really does seem to generate oppression, but we have had hints of it much earlier in the film, when for example Rogas sees one of the three people who would seem to have a gripe against the judges. Here buildings are incomplete skeletons of their future selves while surrounding them are temporary huts and dwellings. Rosi suggests the people may gain in municipal housing but wonders what will be lost in the process of this gain. Echoing his early sixties film, Hands Over the City, which looked at large-scale profiteering in the housing sector, here Rosi puts the housing question quite literally in the background but does so in a manner which nevertheless suggests that, when the conspiratorial becomes evident, the blocks of concrete represent the magnitude of Rogas's task. Yet this might seem like empty symbolism if it weren't for the reality of the apartments that Rosi films, found realities which remain metonymic rather than metaphoric, a partialised actuality rather than an abstract thematic or narrative imposition. In other words, if Rosi were to impose these actualities from elsewhere (from a completely different city or country), or if he were to insist on a categorically conspiratorial plot, the architecture wouldn't come out of the environment but be imposed upon it, and the story wouldn't be about the specifics of place but a general notion of the conspiratorial. The film could have been much more conclusive but it wouldn't possess the actuality of time and place. As Wood, says, "when the tangentapali scandals broke in 1992-93 and edition after edition of the daily papers and monthly magazines revealed the ramifications of corruption in Italian society, interest inevitably focused on films of the 1960s and 1970s which had earlier tried to expose the misuse of power by a governing class." Wood also says "Francesco Rosi's 1963 film, Le mani sulla citta, [Hands over the City] was reissued and the scene where the right-wing Neapolitan councillors are accused of manipulating building licences and wave their hands in the air to demonstrate their cleanliness, became a familiar clip on the small screen." ('Revealing the HiddenCity') "Rosi's film could not name names..." she says, but he could film places. The implicative camera thus also includes an implicative architecture too: the very material reality out of which corruption shapes the world. When Rogas moves through the city wondering who is out to get him, he is moving through the very spaces that have been corruptly put in place before him. He is trapped in more ways than one, and Rosi's purpose is to suggest any investigation is secondary to the investigation of power that includes Rogas within the diegesis but that the implicative camera views beyond it.

"The audience should not be passive spectators", Rosi insisted, in an article that goes under that heading. "After the first phase of neo-realism, there was a second phase which consisted of a time for reflection and a critical examination of the first phase. In the beginning, neo-realism involved only the attempt to be a witness to reality, with no critical perspective, just a desire to record reality. But this was not enough. After a while, neo-realism had become fashionable, it was just another mode you had a pre-determined format and all you had to do was put all the neo-realistic gimmicks into this format." (Cineaste) Rosi sought an investigative structure that would echo his own investigation into the incidents surrounding the films he was making. We can return here briefly to Todorov and his distinction between the detective story where the investigator needn't be in danger and the detective (or for that matter any other character inquiring into a situation) who is. Indeed, Rosi pushed this quite far in his earlier The Mattei Affair, a fictional account of a well-known Italian industrialist who died in mysterious circumstance. By the end of the film, after the kidnapping of a journalist, Mauro De Mauro, involved in the film's production, Rosi puts himself on screen, a filmmaker in the process of making a film that could cost him his life. (The journalist's body was never found.) But Rosi goes further aesthetically in Illustrious Corpses by suggesting not only is Rogas in danger as he enquires into the case but that the film itself is part of that sense of danger as it incorporates a non-diegetic dimension too. It is one thing to feel that Rogas is under threat but it is another to know that a bullet could take out our central character at any moment from our point of view. If Godard could recklessly and wittily break the fourth wall by insisting the character look directly at the lens and thus at the viewer, Rosi, instead suggests the viewer isn't so much part of the film as a self-reflexive attempt at distanciation but part of society that indicates implication.

When numerous critics attacked Rosi in the seventies for not being radical enough, next to Godard, the Straubs, Fassbinder and Makavejev, for example, it might be fairer to say that he was not radical enough in a particular direction. Ted Perry insisted that "no matter how radical the ideas, no matter how complex and inaccessible the truth, the syntax or form of the film remains within conventional bounds. That does not mean Rosi's films are conventional, but rather that the aspirations of the thematic material are more radical than the cinematic form." (Cinema: A Critical Dictionary) It was a criticism levelled at not only Rosi but also Costa-Gavras (Z and State of Siege) and Gillo Pontecorvo (Battle of Algiers and Burn), but it seems that if the criticism was finally unfair it was because these three filmmakers, while never breaking the diegetic contract, at the same time wanted to firm up the social contract in which the films found themselves in various ways trying to defend. But such a defence in Rosi's case, and specifically in Illustrious Corpses, manages to indicate that the social contract and the diegetic contract can be closely related without creating a radical distanciation in the viewing experience.

At one moment, the supreme court judge (Von Sydow) insists that when a judge passes sentence he cannot be in any doubt concerning the decision he has made because he isn't a man sentencing someone to prison but a member of the state playing his role. To call into question the judgements made, undermines the system that must remain in place. Is it better that a miscarriage of justice calls into disrepute the whole institutional structure or better that the occasional innocent person ends up wrongly imprisoned? The Supreme Court president drawing analogies with a priest says that the judicial system like the Catholic church gains nothing from doubt. "When a judge delivers the law he is exactly like a priest officiating at mass. A judge may have doubts, he may question himself, even torment himself, but at the very moment he delivers judgement he can't harbour doubts. At that moment justice is done." The president starts railing against modern thinkers including Sartre and Marcuse who undermine such authority, tracing such roots to Voltaire who by questioning authority subsequently undermines it. What is the point of freedom the president seems to imply if it debilitates institutions, if it leads to the chaos he believes is evident in the seventies Italy he is judicially presiding over? A miscarriage of justice revealed is all very well for the individual who gets released but it is a broader disaster because people no longer have faith in the institution of the law. A troublemaker must be found and found guilty so the law can return to normal. Its purpose isn't the guilt or innocence of individuals, it is the affirmation of the state. The supreme court judge's speech is radical in its content but Rosi films it quite conventionally. Usually medium close-ups and shot counter-shots present the argument. But the implications of the speech are given cinematic form elsewhere, of course, through the implicative camera that leaves us on the side of the societal, aware that the camera could become a gun at any moment, that we aren't only watching the film but watching an imminent demise, just as judge Rasto was killed from the same place that we the viewer happened to be looking. If the film in that instance had cut to a counter-shot of the assassin, the implication would have been removed and the character responsible for the action. But by insisting that the assassin remains invisible throughout, our implication is all the greater. If Mulvey proposes that we are positioned within a male gaze cinema that leaves us watching as a man even if we are a woman, Rosi suggests that in the implicative gaze he offers that we are all framed as murderers because we are both citizens of the state and also viewers of the film. We oughtn't to exaggerate this implication; Rosi is hardly claiming that the viewer watching the film carries the responsibility of those who are behind the execution of the judges. But in a strict sense, the viewer too is also behind the killings, quite literally so as cinematic form welds itself to diegetic event. Whoever is behind the killings is also behind the camera, and who is behind the camera in very different roles is not only Rosi the filmmaker shooting the film, the assassin shooting Rogas and the judges, but also the viewer looking on from the same position.

Rosi's purpose isn't to hyperbolise this question but he does at least want to address it, to say that implications take many forms. When discussing the meagre number of screenings both The Mattei Affair received stateside despite the praise and awards the film garnered, he mused, yes, for Mattei Affair, I think it's fairly easy to understand, at least I think so, but I'm not sure. I mean, you know - Paramount, Gulf and Western...maybe no, maybe...I mean, here was a film that won the Grand Prize at Cannes, but it was released suddenly, without publicity, without saying anything about it." (Cineaste) After all, The Mattei Affair is about a famous Italian oilman who defended Italy's petroleum industries against US influence and who died mysteriously in an air crash. When Rosi wonders whether his film wasn't given much distribution was it because of the close links between Hollywood and the oil industries so clearly evident in Paramount, Gulf and Western? Perhaps, but again Rosi is wary of making claims that he can't back up evidentially, just as we have noted in The Mattei Affair he also muses within the diegesis about the disappearance of Mauro de Mauro. Was this investigation of the Mattei affair literally the death of de Mauro? Rosi cannot say but he can imply that given a certain set of circumstances it wouldn't be unlikely. What Rosi needs to do is frame a question in a way that it can be asked but not necessarily answered, asking the viewer to have a sceptical relationship with information, but obviously what makes Illustrious Corpses especially cinematic is that this extends to the very images Rosi offers to us. Writing on the film in a detailed and engaged piece on terrorism in cinema, Alan O'Leary says "the film is a fable about the strategy of tension and its plot concerns the discovery of a conspiracy - a planned military coup - by a detective investigating a series of murders. However, Rosi shows Italian democracy to have already been compromised by corruption, by state collusion with the mafia, and by the oppressive presence of surveillance (the latter is expressed in passages of great formal brilliance including a highly unusual sound design). Cadaveri eccellenti portrays Italian society as a kind of panoptical prison from which escape is impossible and in which political opposition is a convenient pretext for repression." O'Leary also reckons, "The use of conspiracy theory in this and other Italian films in the 1970s and since gives expression to disquiet or dissatisfaction about the manner in which Italy has been governed...but it may also risk ascribing an exaggerated competence and potency to the conspirators, in this case the representatives of the Italian ruling order. If the conspirators' will is shown to be irresistible, then resistance to it is pointless, and political activism or reformist aspiration is thereby allegorized as vain." ('Italian cinema and the anni de piombo') O'Leary here however seems to be placing the socio-political over the aesthetic and while we wouldn't want to claim that Rosi's cinema ought to be apolitical all the better to be cinematic, we might not agree that such an approach to the conspiratorial is likely to lead to a diminishing interest in political analysis. Surely a film that solves the conspiracy, that allows for a heroic resolution within the diegesis is more likely to curtail political engagement since the film has solved the very problem it has addressed. Even O'Leary's plot description gives to the story an assertiveness Rosi's aesthetic deliberately withholds. Rogas is far from in every scene but he is the only character to whom the story is being worked through. When he is killed so the investigation ends, and certain information can only remain speculative, with the chief inspector's interpretation "that Rogas had just returned from a very stressful mission to find the judges' killer. When he returned to the capital he showed signs of mental imbalance, as a result he was placed on leave. He was seeing plots everywhere and started looking for non-existent evidence." Accordingly, he believed the Communist leader was probably involved in the plot too and killed him, so says the chief inspector. We know this isn't true, even if we don't know what exactly happens to be the case, so that this isn't at all a clarifying coda but a mystifying addition to the falsehoods that entangled Rogas. When the tanks are on the streets and the people are in the square, we aren't sure what will happen next. Will the crowds react in a way that justifies a military coup? We can't say for certain but we can note that the film ends tactically. Rogas's communist friend and a comrade discuss what should be done, whether an extreme reaction from the communists will play into the hands of far-right forces.

Rosi throws the question back at the viewer rather than allowing a clear conclusion, but then this is what the film in its various manifestations has been doing throughout. Rogas wasn't just the detective who might solve the case, he was also and even especially the figure within the frame, the one who could lead us towards the centre of a labyrinth without solution. Combining the Foucauldian Panopticon gaze of the unseeing eye which suggests immense power, with the detective ever more powerless as he is far more endangered than even Todorov might have imagined, Illustrious Corpses asks cinema to be a means by which to ask questions that must also incorporate within that questioning its own form. Yet this needn't lead to a Brechtian cinema based on distanciation but instead a particular form of implicative immediacy. Mulvey's important theoretical probe rested on how we are positioned as viewers, picking up on numerous claims made theoretically in the late sixties and early seventies that the viewer may have been a passive spectator in their cinema seats but they were actively generated ideological beings by virtue of the images created for them. Rosi wouldn't disagree with this claim but his answer isn't simply an escape from neo-realistic truth to a self-reflexive radicalisation of the form; he finds in the neo-realistic the documentative truth that will then be called into question by the narrative imposed upon it. When, early in the film, Rogas enquires into one of the judge's deaths, Rogas asks a peasant what he was like. The peasant replies, "like this town, just what they wanted", as the camera cuts from the man speaking to a reverse high-angle shot from behind the peasant's back, one that rises further and shows us the town he is speaking of, a clustered collection of cramped, high rise housing blocks that Jameson would we are sure have something to say about. We might struggle to find the truth in the story told but we can see with our own eyes the architectural reality that many are forced to live under. O'Leary's article is an excellent account of the terrorist period from 1969 to 1983, and a fine examination of the films that focused on that period from Rosi's own Three Brothers to The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man to Romanzo Criminale. But Illustrious Corpses's capacity to incorporate the panopticon vision (that O'Leary acknowledges), to give to the gaze a twist indicating its murderousness, to extend the Todorovian distinction between a detective solving the case, endangered or otherwise, to incorporating within that danger the very form itself, and, finally, to insist on utilising the architecture of the city, suggests greater ambition than O'Leary is willing to credit the film with possessing. Rosi may claim that he believes in the "power of the visual" but we find too a filmmaker utilising a form which shows the visual that exposes power, without finding answers out of that exposure.


© Tony McKibbin