Monday Sep 07, 2020
Monday Sep 07, 2020
Monday Sep 07, 2020
Dear Criterion Collection or other parties of interest,
Looking around the United States in 2020, I can’t fathom an argument that the themes in Elio Petri’s penultimate feature film, Todo Modo (“One Way Or Another”) have no application here and now.
The plot set-up from Wikipedia currently says, “During a mysterious epidemic that claims numerous political leaders, big industrialists, bankers, and business leaders of the ruling party, the Christian Democrats arrive in a hotel/hermitage/prison called Zafer. They gather for an annual three-day retreat (inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola) to atone for their past crimes of corruption and unethical practices. These exercises are practiced under the guidance of the unusual Don Gaetano (Marcello Mastroianni), a very influential but corrupt priest, who dominates all those at the retreat.”
I’ve heard the notion that understanding Petri’s film or the novel by Leonardo Sciascia would require a deeper awareness of 1970s Italian politics than an American audience could have. Logic like that has restricted the release of other films, like Carlos Saura’s underrated Spanish surrealist masterpiece The Garden Of Delights.
That same insufficient argument didn’t stop the release of future Oscar-winning films like Z (Costa-Gavras) and Petri’s own Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. Both of those films carry additional meaning in the countries they came from; still, their artistic impact is unquestioned internationally. From the 20 minutes of film clips I have found online in Italian with no subtitles, Todo Modo seems more outrageous than similar films, but we are living in outrageous times right now.
• Mysterious epidemic disrupting both political and social life in the country? Check.
o As I’m writing this, the United States alone has 6.3 million positive cases of COVID-19 with almost 190 thousand deaths.
• Unparalleled, and often corrupt, intermingling of church and state? Check.
o If you doubt this one, check out the Netflix series The Family from last year, covering events going back decades.
• Bomb threats and other violent menace directed toward political figures and journalists? Check.
o There have been more than a dozen documented cases of domestic terrorism threats in the United States since the current president was inaugurated, including one where 16 different pipe bomb packages were mailed by suspect Cesar Altieri Sayoc Jr. to perceived critics and “enemies” of President Trump.
Todo Modo cannot be deemed inappropriate for consideration because its plot and themes are too remote and unrelatable to Americans today. In some ways, “One Way Or Another” may be too on-point. This risk of hitting too close to home should not be a concern. First, it is set in Italy almost 50 years ago. Second, even the storytelling then was intentionally stylized to send the message pointedly but somewhat indirectly.
Those stylistic touches are another argument for delivering the highest quality video as quickly as possible, whether DVD or Blu-ray. Location, art direction, and cinematography set this film apart, even among Petri’s experiments. All that is balanced, somewhat, by world class actors like Mastroianni, Gian Maria Volontè, and Michel Piccoli among others. Todo Modo is rated highly among Petri’s work for a reason.
Image quality is always a question with older films, but by the 1970s the notion of film restoration and archiving was well established.
In 2014, the Museum of Modern Art showed a restored print at MoMA in New York.
A year earlier, Senses of Cinema in Australia ran a feature about the film.
More recently, the Daughters of Darkness podcast closed out a series on Petri in 2016-17 with Todo Modo noted as his last true masterpiece.
There is a buzz. It may not be as noteworthy as the organ and piano from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, but Todo Modo should strike chords and find an audience. I have spent time with other films and TV movies set during pandemics this year, but this overlooked gem may be the most relevant and important of them all.
Find a way to release “One Way Or Another” to an American audience with subtitles and whatever supporting extras you feel is necessary to provide point-and-time context. It is the right thing to do.