A well-dressed, well-kempt man (Gian Maria Volontè) walks up to the apartment block of his girlfriend (Florinda Bolkan) and lets himself in, then proceeds to her apartment where she is very pleased to see him. She asks him how he will murder her today, and he replies he will slit her throat, then they start taking off their clothes and climb into bed. But the man was not joking: as they are in the act of lovemaking, he takes a blade and cuts her throat, killing her almost instantly. Then he casts her aside, wipes the blood off on the sheets, and has a shower; after that, he dresses and commences his other goal: to make it clear to all and sundry that he was the killer - the Chief of the Homicide Division.
Elio Petri's Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto, or Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion as it was known in English, made quite an impact on its initial release, ranked alongside works like The Conformist or Garden of the Finzi-Continis as a new classic of Italian cinema as the decade changed to the seventies. But somewhere along the way, it lapsed into a netherworld of not being widely seen, and its standing dropped, though those who did catch it remained highly impressed at its qualities that won it a Best Foreign Film Oscar for its inverted Kafkaesque games-playing with the audience - Franz was quoted right at the end, apparently as a sardonic punchline.
Really, this was not one man pitted against a state of authority and unseeing confusion, since the main character, who is never named, was in that authority, and has a perverse desire to be caught for his crimes. However, that desire is thwarted at every turn in a style that can be horribly surreal, yet can also be of the blackest comedy, certainly there was a twinkle in Volontè's eye as he laid traps for himself, toyed with his equals and underlings, and generally behaved like some scoundrel contained in a cruel universe that is happy to entertain personalities like his since they fit right in with the state corruption that allows him to go about his business, as to admit one of their chiefs was wrong is a no-no.
As you can see, co-writer and director Elio Petri had a savage observation to make about how Italy, any country in fact, could so easily slip into fascism when its leaders were given carte blanche to do whatever they liked as long as they were in a position of power. The unsettling element had it that the Chief here represented not merely a corruption gone unchecked, but an indication that the people given permission to spy on you, to arrest you and gather evidence against you, were quite possibly insane, and even if they were that was no hindrance to their task. Indeed, the crazier they were the better suited they were for the job of those investigations, and as the antihero, who we learn is about to head the Political Crime Division, sets about incriminating himself (after all, he perpetrated the crime), he is indulged and if any tricky information arises, it is ignored.
Everything must feed into the appearance of respectability and justice must be seen to have been served, as long as it has been also regarded as fighting the political and social forces identified as anti-social and anti-state, so if those citizens who are above suspicion, as the title says, are misbehaving, or going as far as getting off on their own twisted power trip, then they will now be permitted to do so for they are useful in the fight against the insurgents and undesirables, who may be innocent, but are going down anyway. It fits the purpose. Petri shot this in a palette of greys, all the more bureaucratic and nightmarish that way, and his star was at the top of his game in practically every scene, a magnetic yet loathsome presence, as Bolkan appeared almost exclusively in flashbacks, accusing both her killer and the machinations of the authorities from beyond the grave, yet similarly futile in her need for justice. It was a shade too one note and relentless to be judged much fun, but it was intelligent and rigorous, and Ennio Morricone's off-kilter theme was the perfect accompaniment.