At the tail end of 2022, multiplexes were awash with softball social satires. Whether it was the milquetoast smugness of The Menu, the gross-out gastronomy of Triangle of Sadness, or the Musk-modelled moron at the heart of Glass Onion, eating the rich was the dish of the day—though it mostly amounted to a light nibble. What better time, then, for Radiance to release their 2K edition of The Working Class Goes to Heaven (1971), directed and written by committed communist and all-round cynic, Elio Petri?
Where those aforementioned features have a habit of lining up wealthy caricatures for easy potshots, in The Working Class… the ivory tower is a distant dream. Our principal character, dogged jobsworth and model factory worker Ludovico ‘Lulù' Massa (Gian Maria Volonté), makes this observation himself after being called a brownnose by his slower-working colleagues, asking how he can possibly suck up to someone he's never seen, let alone met. Petri wisely keeps our perspective amongst the proletariat; the labourers, piece workers, and union reps who grind the gears in service of the excesses of those above them. It's a far cry from the glitz and glamour.
The Working Class Goes to Heaven, Radiance
When we first meet Massa, he's the prototypical capitalist cog. He applauds the new piece working system—whereby employees get paid solely for each unit produced rather than their time worked—and chides those who can't keep up. When asked how he works at such a higher rate than his fellow factory operators, his answer is suitably chauvinist: he thinks about his female co-worker's ass—one piece, one ass. It's the kind of sordid tit-for-tat logic that only makes sense when you've submitted entirely to the industrialist chain of command.
All that changes when Massa loses a finger in a workplace accident, partly owing to the risky methods he uses to up his output. It's not long before he's become a full-blown activist, championing the need for firmer worker's rights—even as his own blinkered self-interest persists. That conflict between personal need and the endlessly turning wheel of capital is where the film's darker humour reveals itself, best summarised when a poor worker with an inflamed prostate is asked why he doesn't take time off ill. “What sick leave? I'm either pissing or working.”
Petri shoots things low and tight, interspersing long takes of the factory floor with extreme close-ups of pistons and arms pumping in unison. There's an authentic layer of grime coating the dull metal machines, matched by the greasy sweat of the grimacing workers. It might be an uncomfortable aesthetic, but there's a real presence to the images. The 2K restoration used in Radiance's releases loses none of the grain and grit, enriching the subdued greens and browns.
The Working Class Goes to Heaven, Radiance
Petri makes no secret of his goals here, resulting in a fierce anti-capitalist polemic that's closer to propaganda than political parody (for more on Petri's radical politics the bonuses are a must-watch). What elevates The Working Class… above simple politicking is Petri's ability to balance his righteous fury with a recognition of the amorality at every level of the system. Petri's factory workers are incensed, bitter, and empathetic, even as they're also frequently crass and cruel, liable to throw out one of their own in the face of adversity. The result is a film that's easy to grasp but hard to pin down, and one whose relevance in the face of increased global inequity is as pronounced as it is depressing.
Limited Edition Special Features
- 2K restoration of the film
- Original uncompressed mono PCM audio
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- Archival interview with Elio Petri from the Cannes Film Festival
- Career-encompassing archival interview with Gian Maria Volonté from French TV
- Archival interview with actor Corrado Solari
- Appreciation of Gian Maria Volonté and the film by filmmaker Alex Cox
- Petri's Praxis: Ideology and Cinema in Post-war Italy
- The Working Class Goes to Heaven—Background to a Film Shot in Novara (2006), by Serena Checcucci and Enrico
- Omodeo Salé
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
- Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film
- Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings
The Radiance edition of The Working Class Goes to Heaven was released on January 2nd in the UK.