Salvatore Giuliano: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

On July 5th, 1950, a man named Salvatore Giuliano was found dead and his body was riddled with gunshot wounds. The local authorities release a statement about Giuliano’s death, but a lot of people have doubts. Giuliano was a well known man and though only twenty-seven at the time of his death, his impact was intense. Some called him a common criminal, others a ruthless madman, and still others knew him as a hero. But which of these titles best suited Giuliano, was a hero or a criminal, or perhaps a little of both? In Francesco Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano, we’re taken to the same streets where Giuliano walked, to see the impact for ourselves. Rosi’s approach feels like a documentary at times, with real locals telling the stories of Giuliano, but then there is a tone at times that shatters that illusion. The cast is all real folks except for a couple of professional actors, all of whom perform at the exact locations of the real life events. Giuliano’s tale is told through his own actions, instead of trying to get inside the man’s mind and motivations. The result is an examination of the man’s life, laid out for the audience to draw their own conclusions.

The realm of foreign cinema often leaves outsiders in the dark at times, left to wonder what certain phrases or other cultural elements mean. This can be tough, as no one has an endless knowledge of global customs, dialects, and rich cultural patterns, which is perhaps why some folks abstain from foreign cinema on the whole. But you can also find universal themes and tones, which sometimes balance out the lost details. In the case of Salvatore Giuliano, if you don’t know much about the real life events, you’ll feel out of place. Unlike most biopics, this one doesn’t follow the title character, we never learn about his internal conflicts, see his private life, or even hear him speak, so we can’t make a direct connection. The result is that we’re lost in all the political and cultural elements, with no real rope to hold us close. But director Francesco Rosi chose to let the man’s action speak, not his words, which makes sense. In the process however, audiences without vast knowledge about the events will feel confused and lost. The documentary feel, with shot on location scenes and minimal professional performers, lends itself well to Rosi’s intent, in addition to giving the audience a small branch to grasp onto. I still think Salvatore Giuliano is a great motion picture, but if you’re not up on the real events behind the movie, I suggest some research. As usual, Criterion’s edition is superb and so this two disc edition is recommended.

Video: How does it look?

Salvatore Giuliano is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This movie has been given the red carpet treatment here, with a digitally restored print taken from a brand new, high definition transfer. The result is more than impressive, as the image has such a clean, refined texture, fans won’t be able to believe their eyes. Almost all the dirt, debris, and unwanted grain has been removed, which leaves us a sharp, unhindered visual presence. So there is more depth here than before, as if a layer of haze has been lifted off the visuals. The stark black & white image is dead on, thanks to smooth and consistent black levels. All in all, another home run from Criterion, who continue to be one of the best DVD producers in the business.

Audio: How does it sound?

The original Italian soundtrack is preserved, in an improved, but still flawed presentation. The audio has been shined up here, thanks to some digital restoration, but the soundtrack still has some rough edges. I found this to be cleaner than anticipated, with no serious pops or harsh moments to mention. But there is a moderate level of hiss, which can be a distraction and worsens when the volume is increased. At normal levels, the hiss is minor and not that evident, but if you go much louder, it becomes a problem. So while not a big issue, the hiss can become bothersome and I felt it worth a mention. But on the whole, the audio is solid here and most of the flaws are related to the production, not this treatment. In case you’re rusty on your Italian, this disc also includes optional, new and improved English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

An audio commentary starts us off, as film historian Peter Cowie lends his thoughts on the production. As always, Cowie is well researched and has a lot of insight to share, though his bland tone might bore some folks. Even so, his session here is another top notch one and fans of the film are sure to be delighted. I was even more impressed with an extensive documentary, which looks at Francesco Rosi’s career and life. If you don’t know much about Rosi, this will enlighten you to no end, but even fans should learn a little here. The piece runs about an hour and is packed with insightful interviews and footage. In short, this is a fantastic inclusion and adds immense value to an already worthwhile release. This two disc edition also includes a vintage newsreel, an interview with director Francesco Rosi, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

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