Where does this film fall within the chronology of gangsterdom, American style? Somewhere in between this week's much-anticipated Public Enemies (and its actual chronological precursors, such as two different films entitled Dillinger) and The Godfather, although Rosi's film was made after Coppola's (and, arguably, was only produced due to that film's success). More importantly, what's its proper place in the chronicles of Italian crime and power, including those Rosi films that precede it (see Salvatore Giuliano, Hands Across The City, The Mattei Affair), but also such books/films as Sciascia's Open Doors and Saviano's Gommora?
For the iconography of Rosi's film is squarely ensconced in the violent gangster exploitation ethos ushered in by The Godfather's success. Then there's the casting of such venerable New-Yawkish heavies of the era such as Vincent Gardenia and Rod Steiger.
But Rosi is playing a double, if not triple, game here. Playing the enigmatic Italian gangster Luciano, who ruled a crime empire both within the Italy to which he was deported and in the United States from which he was expelled, is Gian Maria Volonte. A committed Marxist and Italian Communist Party member until 1981, his penchant for radical politics was widely publicized, and he allied himself with the then far-left Godard in 1970 to appear in the latter's Wind from the East. His subtle, enigmatic performance aside, his mere presence in the film signals Rosi's intention to place crime squarely in the context of capitalism.
The varied shots of burly sinister men in overcoats and dark glasses getting in and out of cars constitute a kind of ballet of power, just as much as the multiple depictions of brutal killings do. "Mean men at work," these compositions say, with a kind of droll resignation. The subordinate role of women in this world is of course a given.
The film jumps between various time frames in a seemingly arbitrary fashion, creating a mosaic effect that actually effectively underscores Rosi's theme of eternal corruption. Money and power are ever and always the constants, no matter what ways the "culture" changes. Money and power are the culture, finally.
Thus, this anachronistic shot of Luciano gazing at a 1970's skyline of lower Manhattan as his vessel sets sail in the 1940s has to be seen as an entirely deliberate "gaffe." This kind of broker is always with us, it says. This movie takes place then, but it might as well be now. The Fed who doggedly pursued Luciano in real life, Charles Siragusa, plays himself here, and not as a younger man, another example of Rosi's rule-breaking meta-reality principle.
The French Region 2 DVD of Luciano is a good looking disc, but it will test your language skills. Like most Italian productions of the time, it was shot with post-synch sound, but Rosi insisted, for the original, on a realistic, multi-lingual approach; a good deal of the New York sequences are largely in English, while the Italy-set ones are in Italian. An all-French dub is also an option, and the only subtitles are in French. The supplements include an interview with Rosi by Michel Ciment...also not in English. Still, if you've got some high-school French or Italian, you may surprise yourself with your comprehension of this picture, which is for the most part a very trenchant piece of visual storytelling.