Elio Petri: Property is no Longer a Theft

Ugo Tognazzi ddisplays his meat in Property Is No Longer Theft
Property Is No Longer Theft
Property Is No Longer Theft

Aka La proprieté, c’est plus le vol (Fr), La proprieta non e piu un furto (It)
Italy / France
Produced by Claudio Mancini for Quasars Film Company (Rome), Labrador Films (Paris)
Director: Elio Petri
Story & screenplay: Elio Petri, Ugo Pirro
Cinematography: Luigi Kuveiller {Eastmancolor}
Music: Ennio Morricone, conducted by Bruno Nicolai
Editor: Ruggero Mastroianni
Art director: Gianni Polidori
Cameraman: Ubaldo Terzano
Release dates & running times: Italy (03/10/73, 125 mins), France (16/10/74)
Filmed: Rizzoli Film Studios
Italian takings:
Cast:  Ugo Tognazzi (the butcher), Flavio Bucci (Total), Daria Nicolodi (Anita), Luigi Proietti (Paco aka ‘The Argentinian’), Mario Scaccia (Alessandro Marzo aka Albertone), Orazio Orlando (Inspector Pirelli), Julien Guiomar (the bank manager), Cecilia Polizzi (Mafada, the fence), Jacques Herlin (a bank employee), Gino Milli (Zagane), Ettore Garofalo (Bocio), Ada Pometti, Luigi Antonio Guerra, Pier Luigi D’Orazio

If The Working Class Goes to Heaven was a pretty idiosyncratic affair, Petri’s next film, Property is no Longer a Theft (La proprietà non è più un furto, 73) is simply bonkers.  An ungodly mix of crime film, comedy and experimental theatre, large stretches of it are – quite frankly – incomprehensible.  Total (Flavio Bucci) is a bank teller who has the unfortunate affliction of being allergic to money; especially money that’s being paid in by a particular wealthy butcher and property developer (Ugo Tognazzi).  One day the bank is attacked by armed robbers and, although the raid is unsuccessful (the bank has a hidden vault full of assault dogs that can be set free in case of just such events (!)) it has a profound effect upon the humble accountant.

Deciding that all possessions entrap their owners, he resigns his job and embarks upon a new career as a ‘Mandrakian Marxist’: a robber who only steals to free his targets from the tyranny of being beholden to their assets.  For some reason he also becomes fixated upon the aforementioned butcher – who seems to symbolize all that’s worst about the capitalist greed for ‘things’ – and sets about tormenting him in a doomed attempt to prove the error of his ways.

This harassment begins with the theft of the butcher’s trusty knife, progresses to stealing his favorite trilby (a fun sequence set in a porn cinema) and eventually finds Total stealing his girlfriend’s jewelry and, it is implied, affections.  However, although all this annoys and frustrates his victim, they don’t seem to dent his appetite for consumption.

Total enlists the help of transvestite thief Albertone (Mario Scaccia) as a reluctant accomplice and they break in to the butcher’s architectural nightmare of an apartment.  Things go wrong, however, when his contempt for money means that the two wannabe revolutionaries fall out, and Albertone reports his former accomplice to the police.  It all, of course, ends in tragedy.

Good God, where to start?  Well, let’s get the genre references out the way.  With it’s emphasis upon crooks and jailbirds this obviously borrows some ideas from the Poliziotteschi is as helmed by Lenzi, Castellari et al., an influence played up in several sequences (such as the bank raid, which could have come right out of an Inspector Belli film).  Most of the characters, particularly Flavio Bucci’s perpetually goggle-eyed, twitching idealist and Mario Scaccia’s strangely dignified transvestite housebreaker, seem to have walked straight in from a comedy.  Interspersed with all of this you have a series of direct-to-the-camera eulogies from the main protagonists that look to have come from some kind of avant-garde revue.  This is especially true of Daria Nicolodi’s talking head moment, in which she sits spread-eagle upon a chair and talks about being a object (eat your heart out Lydia Lunch).

All of this is stirred into a story that is meant to illustrate the argument that you don’t simply own possessions, you are also owned by them.  The butcher (who remains unnamed throughout) attempts to stop the bedevilment by offering to buy his tormentor a shop of his own, but Total turns it down as he realizes that to do so would be to surrender his freedom.  It all closes with the funeral of Albertone, attended by a whole raft of petty pilferers (all of whom wear sunglasses).  Here ‘The Argentinean’ (Luigi Proietti) gives a very amusing speech arguing that thieves are an essential part of society as they cement the relationship between the non criminal civilians and the products that keep them happy/subdued.  Of course, the trouble is that thieves are, by their nature, as much in thrall of possessions as their targets.

Flavio Bucci in Property Is No Longer Theft
Flavio Bucci in Property Is No Longer Theft

It has to be said that Property is no Longer a Theft is pretty hard going.  It’s way too long, and even more self-indulgent than most of Petri’s other films.  On the other hand, this heavy-handedness is tempered by some lighter moments that again indicate a fine comic sensibility.  For some reason it made me wish that Petri (a filmmaker whose hypotheses obstruct his narratives) had made a collaboration with Umberto Lenzi (whose narratives wouldn’t know a hypothese if it came up and kicked them).

Technically there isn’t anything that can possibly be faulted.  There’s another superb Morricone soundtrack and Petri uses the sets and locations with his customary zeal.  He creates such a lush visual landscape that you can easily forget that you’re being intellectually hectored.  The performances are all eminently capable (particularly Scaccia and a surprisingly straight turn from comedy star Ugo Tognazzi).

A couple of other things need to be mentioned.  Considering that this wasn’t an exploitation film, there is an awful lot of strange sexual hi-jinx – nipple tweaking, voyeurism, porn cinema handjobs, attempted rape – going on for a 1973 film.  Daria Nicolodi features in most of these and is happily decked out, for most of the running time, in a skirt that’s short enough to show her knickers.  She would go on to contribute to the script for Dario Argento’s Suspiria (77), which also featured Bucci as a blind piano player who has his throat ripped out by his guide dog. There’s also a fun sequence in which the butcher and Luisa visit a security showroom in which the impregnability of the goods are demonstrated by having a body-stocking clad cat-thief attempt to break into the ‘Diabolik proof doors’.

About Matt Blake 890 Articles
The WildEye is a blog dedicated to the wild world of Italian cinema (and, ok, sometimes I digress into discussing films from other countries as well). Peplums, comedies, dramas, spaghetti westerns... they're all covered here.

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