Elio Petri
Petri in 1968
Eraclio Petri

(1929-01-29)29 January 1929
Rome, Italy
Died10 November 1982(1982-11-10) (aged 53)
Rome, Italy
Occupation(s)Film and stage director, screenwriter, film critic
Years active1953–1982
SpousePaola Pegoraro (1962–1982)

Eraclio Petri (29 January 1929 – 10 November 1982), commonly known as Elio Petri, was an Italian film and theatre director, screenwriter and film critic.[1][2] The Museum of Modern Art described him as "one of the preeminent political and social satirists of 1960s and early 1970s Italian cinema".[3] His film Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion won the 1971 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film,[1][4] and his subsequent film The Working Class Goes to Heaven received the Palme d'Or at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.[5][6]

Other noted films by Petri include The 10th Victim (1965),[7] the prize-winning We Still Kill the Old Way (1967)[8][9] and A Quiet Place in the Country (1968),[10] and the controversially received Todo modo (1976).[11][12]


Early years

Petri was born in Rome on 29 January 1929.[13] In 1944, he joined the youth organization of the Italian Communist Party (PCI).[1] After graduating from Rome University as a literature major,[1] he wrote articles on films for L'Unità, Gioventù nuova as well as for Città aperta.[13][14] He later left the Communist Party after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[1]

Gianni Puccini introduced Petri to neorealist director Giuseppe De Santis in the early 1950s.[14] In the following years, Petri became a steady collaborator on De Santis' films, as a researcher for Rome 11:00 (1952),[14] and as an assistant director and co-writer from A Husband for Anna (1953) until La garçonnière (1960).[14][15] In addition, Petri wrote scripts for Giuliano Puccini, Aglauco Casadio and Carlo Lizzani during this period,[13][14] and directed two documentary shorts, Nasce un campione (1954) and I sette contadini (1957).[14][15]

Career as director

Petri made his feature film debut as a director with The Assassin (also titled The Lady Killer of Rome, 1961),[1] starring Marcello Mastroianni as an egotistical social careerist accused of the murder of his former mistress. It was the first of four scenarios/screenplays written together with Tonino Guerra, and the first of Mastroianni's repeated appearances in Petri's films. The Assassin marked a deliberate departure from neorealism, examining his protagonist's psychology:[16] "The protagonist of Bicycle Thieves today must face not only the society he lives in but also his own consciousness", Petri stated in an interview the following year.[4] The film was a success both with the audience and the critics, enabling the financing of Petri's second film, His Days Are Numbered (1962),[16] again co-written with Guerra. Other than The Assassin, His Days Are Numbered, the story of a plumber who becomes aware of his own mortality and stops going to work, was not a success.[13]

Petri's next two directorial efforts, The Teacher from Vigevano (1963), a comedy drama about the troubles of a provincial school teacher, and Peccato nel pomeriggio, his contribution to the anthology film High Infidelity (1964), are regarded as lesser works by film historians.[14] While preparing The 10th Victim, he participated in the sexy mondo film Nudi per vivere (1964),[14][17] working under a pseudonym.[16] The 10th Victim (1965), a satirical look at a future society finding distraction in a televised manhunt, met with reservations by some critics for being a commercial "compromise" by its director,[14] but was successful with the audience.[7]

We Still Kill the Old Way (1967), a crime drama following a murder investigation hindered by local power structures in rural Sicily, was adapted from the novel To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia and received the Best Screenplay Award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.[9] The film marked the beginning of Petri's collaboration with screenwriter Ugo Pirro, which was to last until 1973, and was the first of four feature films by Petri to star Gian Maria Volontè. A Quiet Place in the Country (1968), a giallo thriller about an artist's deterioration into madness, won a Silver Bear award at the 19th Berlin International Film Festival,[10] but was also dismissed by some critics as "kitsch"[14] and "nonsense".[18]

The "trilogy of neurosis"

With Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970), which, among other accolades, received the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film and two prizes at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival,[19] Petri presented one of his most successful films.[1][4][13] A political thriller and black comedy[4] about a murderous police officer who deliberately leaves traces leading to him at the site of his crime, Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is Petri's only film to be later included in the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage's list of 100 Italian films to be saved.[20] In the same year, Petri participated in the political documentary films Documenti su Giuseppe Pinelli (also titled Dedicato a Pinelli), about the unresolved death of anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, and 12 Dicembre.[15]

The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971), again honoured at the Cannes Film Festival, and Property Is No Longer a Theft (1973) continued the director's fractured and black comedic style.[4] The former film follows a factory worker who sides with political radicals and slowly loses his mind when he is no longer needed, the latter focusses on a bank clerk who quits his job and turns to robbery. Film historians would later refer to Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, The Working Class Goes to Heaven and Property Is No Longer a Theft as the "trilogy of neurosis":[21] neurosis of power, neurosis of work and neurosis of money.[22]

Later works

Todo modo (1976) was again adapted from a novel by Leonardo Sciascia. The film, a barely concealed satirical portrayal of Italy's then ruling Christian Democratic party and prime minister Aldo Moro, was received controversially upon its release and withdrawn from circulation after Moro's assassination two years later.[12][23] Petri himself saw the film as a break with what he saw as "popular" political cinema, radical political films (both his and by other directors) produced within Italy's mainstream film industry.[4]

In 1978, Petri directed Le mani sporche, a three-part television production of Jean-Paul Sartre's play Dirty Hands starring Marcello Mastroianni.[14][16] His last film was Good News (1979), a portrayal of a society emotionally deformed by an omnipresent mass media,[13][14] which he co-produced with his star Giancarlo Giannini.[24] In 1981, Petri directed Arthur Miller's new play The American Clock at Genoa's Teatro Duse, with Lino Capolicchio playing the lead role.[14][16]


Petri died of cancer on 10 November 1982 in Rome,[1][4] 53 years old.



All films were also written or co-written by Petri, except where noted

Screenplay only

Awards (selected)

His Days Are Numbered
We Still Kill the Old Way
A Quiet Place in the Country
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
The Working Class Goes to Heaven


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Elio Petri director of films satirizing the society of Italy". The New York Times. 11 November 1982. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  2. ^ "Elio Petri: Satire, Italian Style". Museum of Modern Art. 2003. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  3. ^ "Elio Petri Revisited". Museum of Modern Art. 2006. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Williams, Evan Calder (3 December 2013). "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion: The Long Harm of the Law". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 19 January 2024.
  5. ^ "La classe operaia va in paradiso". Cinematografo (in Italian). Retrieved 7 January 2024.
  6. ^ "La Classe Operaia Va In Paradiso". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  7. ^ a b Dixon, Wheeler Winston (March 2013). "La decima vittima". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  8. ^ "A ciascuno il suo". Cinematografo (in Italian). Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  9. ^ a b "A ciascuno il suo". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 24 December 2023.
  10. ^ a b "Preise – 1969". Berlinale.de (in German). Retrieved 18 January 2024.
  11. ^ "Todo modo". Treccani (in Italian). Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  12. ^ a b Giubilei, Franco (1 September 2014). "Restaurato "Todo Modo", il film che anticipò l'uccisione di Aldo Moro". La Stampa (in Italian). Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  13. ^ a b c d e f "Petri, Elio". Treccani (in Italian). Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lang, Simon (2023). Ästhetik und Politik im Werk des italienischen Filmregisseurs Elio Petri. edition text + kritik. ISBN 9783967078770.
  15. ^ a b c "Elio Petri (Eraclio Petri)". Cinematografo.it (in Italian). Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  16. ^ a b c d e Curti, Roberto (2021). Elio Petri: Investigation of a Filmmaker. McFarland. ISBN 9781476680347.
  17. ^ "Nudi per vivere". Cinematografo (in Italian). Retrieved 21 January 2024.
  18. ^ Dafoe, Christopher (1 August 1970). "Place in Country is Kinky Movie". Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia. p. 29. Retrieved 21 January 2024 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ "Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  20. ^ "Ecco i cento film italiani da salvare". Corriere.it (in Italian). Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  21. ^ Moliterno, Gino (November–December 2012). "Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion". Senses of Cinema. Retrieved 20 January 2024.
  22. ^ Diazzi, Alessandra; Sforza Tarabochia, Alvise, eds. (2019). The Years of Alienation in Italy: Factory and Asylum Between the Economic Miracle and the Years of Lead. Springer International. p. 186. ISBN 9783030151492.
  23. ^ "Todo Modo. 1976. Directed by Elio Petri". Museum of Modern Art. 2014. Retrieved 20 December 2023.
  24. ^ "Buone notizie". Cinematografo (in Italian). Retrieved 20 January 2024.