We Still Kill the Old Way – The Ancient Skull Beneath The Mask Of Modernity

Country: Italy
Genre: Drama/ Suspense/ Art/ Romance
Director: Elio Petri
Year: 1967

Rating: ★★★½☆


Dr. Antonio Roscio (Franco Tranchina) has been receiving anonymous death threats, which surprises no one because he’s an incorrigible skirt chaser in Sicily, where such things are not happily tolerated. Suspicion quickly falls on the brother and father of a fifteen year old maid that Dr. Roscio was porking, but Dr. Roscio’s friend, Professor Paolo Laurana (Gian Maria Volonté) suspects that the source of the death threats might be elsewhere.

Could there be a political angle, for which the anonymous death threats are just a red herring, or might there be still another explanation?

We Still Kill the Old Way is shot through with paranoia, which is achieved partially through the script by Jean Curtelin, Elio Petri, and Ugo Pirro (from the novel by Leonardo Sciascia), but mostly through the wizardly direction of Elio Petri. From the very first shot, Petri shows us how then modern Sicily is just the outer skin of an ancient and pitiless land and culture. He does this through shot selection, camera movement, and subtle use of zooms.

Gian Maria Volonté contributes another one of his masterful performances. He conjures up the body language, gestures, and world view of a leftist intellectual in the most naturalistic way imaginable. It doesn’t seem like he’s acting at all. It’s amazing to think that he played the brutal Ramón Rojo in A Fist Full Of Dollars. Irene Papas matches Volonté step for step as the good doctor’s wife, weaving a subtle web of obfuscation that only seems inevitable in the final frames of the film.

Just as wonderful, and part and parcel of the success of the film, director Elio Petri gives us a snapshot of a bygone world, Sicily in 1967.

We Still Kill the Old Way is a very rich and satisfying film. What it is not is a genre film or an exploitation film of any kind, which makes it a little odd for a review of it to be appearing on this site. The reason I reviewed it is because I was so knocked out by Gian Maria Volonté’s performance in Face To Face, that I decided to track down as many of his films as I could.

Here’s my advice for my faithful readers. Watch Face To Face first, and if you are as wowed by Volonté in that film as I was, then move on to We Still Kill the Old Way.

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