Scrape off the protagonist and exploratory impressions fill the void, the historical biopic becomes a modernist argument. (The foundation dismantled could be Viva Zapata!, and Kazan returns the compliment in the early passages of America America.) An overhead shot of a sprawled corpse kicks off the indagine, an amphitheater view of the eponymous legendary outlaw discarded in a Sicilian courtyard, Francesco Rosi looks backward and forward and sideways to piece the tale together. Italy after the war is a fractured state, the perfect time to mold Salvatore Giuliano from fugitive peasant to separatist colonel ("escapees and bandits" were once Garibaldi’s tools, declares one politico.) Bogus amnesty segues into Mafia alliances, kidnapping and extortion, the "King of Montelepre" is but a servant passed from one opportunistic authority to the next, "squeeze the lemon and then throw it out." Around Giuliano’s spectral form, Rosi assembles a methodical welter of interrogations, flashbacks and reconstructions, dossier pages scattered across the lumpy, stark landscape. From a Roman reporter to a recruited shepherd to a treacherous comrade, the perspective is continuously slippery, obscured, purposely incomplete. The political and personal forces at play are raw, the scrutiny is analytical: High-angled vantage points are recurrent, a composed long shot of a jeep zipping across the dirt road is splendidly upended as a rifle enters the foreground of the frame and a quick zoom surveys the crash in the distance. The military round-up (a tsunami of wailing women slamming against lines of carabinieri) and the May Day massacre (bodies and banners on a parched field) are punchy studies of Eisenstein, Pisciotta and Don Nunzio in the desert anticipate Leone. "Even the smallest Italian town can be a museum." The coda underlines the unending need for inquiry, the search for veracity beyond the official story. The Battle of Algiers is only a few years and a thousand miles away, Soderbergh in Che gives the style a valiant try. Cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce