Property is no longer a theft (La proprietà non è più un furto) Elio Petri (Italy 1973) Flavio Bucci, Ugo Tognazzi
Viewed: Star and Shadow, Burnlaw part of LTP film retreat, 16 June 2018 Ticket: £5
Petri ‘s ‘Property is no longer a theft’ (‘Property”) is a fable after the Aesop fashion. A moral Brechtian tale wrapped up in the delirium of filmic form.
‘Property is no longer a theft’ is a take on Proudhon’s famous assertion (property is theft), and moves on Petri’s perception that property is not so much a theft rather it has become a schizophrenic madness that rips up men and their social relations.
Petri’s movie is an inspired satire on the madness in money and capitalism. A film construed as a satanic black comedy, an oppositin of good and evil; a relentless parody on a society defined through inequalities of ownership and wealth, and rendered psychotic by the intensity of desires they unleash.
Petri’s script is Brechtian in its structure. The main characters defined by the situations Petri puts into play rather than their personalities. Total, the money allergic bank clerk, the Butcher the property owner, Anita the Butcher’s mistress. The roles are highly individuated but played out by the actors as types. They are not subjectivities. Their situations in relation to property make them the sorts of people they are. As types each of the main characters is granted by the script, one soliloquy; a communication delivered directly to the audience, in which each reveals candidly and repletely how they see the world and their place in it. These pieces as insights, dynamically connect the characters with the viewer,; they are key elements in the films structure, linking states of mind to the film’s action.
The script with its Brechtian design exploits symbolic devices to throw into relief the cavernous dark spaces in which the scenario plays out.
The script whilst in the form of a transposed fable has a simple magico-religious device at its core that allows a dark absurdity to play through the schizo desires of the haves and have not’s. Total is a have-not, and knows he will always so be. In a puff of smoke (literally) Total quits his job in the bank, vowing to revenge himself on the rich Butcher whose great piles of money he has had to count every day. But Total, who is allergic to money as it it makes him itch, understands that money is a form of death wish and sickness, so he invents what he calls mandrake communism (hallucinogenic communism?) to pay out the Butcher. Disdaining money, Total takes on the mantel of the shaman, and in a series of slap-stick cameos resorts to stealing the Butcher’s power objects: his butcher’s knife, his hat, his jewels and finally his girlfriend the abused and fucked Anita.
Although knocked off balance by the loss of his power objects, the butcher remains powerfully protected by the shibboleths and mantras of wealth, consoling himself that there is no point in having objects is no one wants to steal them. And repossessing Anita on her return to his flat, fucks her and celebrates his wealth with each thrust into her groin, before climaxing and in ejaculation gasping out that as wealthiest motherfucker in Rome, he is also the most degraded and pitiable. A scene that crafts out of a satyric farce, the schizo relationship of wealth possession and sex.
Total’s attempt to destroy the butcher fails. The butchers madness simply integrates him deeper into the grain of a deeply psychotic society where all the contradictions of death madness and possession co-exist in instable counterbalance. All that the thief can do is to validate wealth.
So Total changes tack. He cunningly insinuates himself into a robbery, after which the madness of money starts to corrupt him and overtake him. As he has foreseen, money marks him out for the forces of death, and like all good protagonists the unlucky man ends up murdered by his arch rival.
What makes Petri’s film outstanding is his use of both camera and the sets
to turn his fable into a total cinematographic experience. Total’s story is form and content folded into cinema, the seamless interplay of the power of movement images.
The camera movement is extraordinary. A choreography of vertiginous pans tilts arcs and parabolas. The camera is dancing, a dance that pulls together space and the relations that take place within place. The camera spins the webs, the networks of attraction and repulsion that form the threads of Petri’s concerns. The camera is particularly effective at changes of perspective moving from elevation and to the horizontal capturing the subject’s situation in a manner that otherwise could not be understood.
Today’s directors like to keep the camera moving. Move the shot to stop the rot the fear of the audience getting restless. Todays camera movements and placements are usually no more than simplistic distractions. But Petri’s camera tying together moves of multiple flowing moving close-ups of individuals in a scene in complex balletic relations, always have purpose of allowing the viewer into the complexity of what is happening.
Likewise the sets used in ‘Property’ add another dimension to Petri’s movie. Set against the eye of the flowing camera, the background sets are dark baroque and heavily ornamented. They are spaces which absorb people imprison them, a chiaroscuro of corruption created by relief and shadow. The sort of worlds made by money and into which money is absorbed. A world that has an Italian resonance where the shadows of politics, dirty money and religion are so deep no one can see what is really going on. A world of mystery.
But Petri’s delirious cinema directed by his impeccable script and guided by the tenets of a Brechtian morality, open our eyes to the twisted schizophrenic canon of contemporary capitalist madness.