A Pure Formality

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore
Screenwriters: Giuseppe Tornatore

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


If your appreciation of Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore is based on the sentimental lyricism of his Cinema Paradiso, get ready for another point of view. As powerful and effective as he was in creating that world on film, he is equally inventive and successful in delineating this allegorical universe of life and death. With support from the immense talents of Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu, Tornatore has structured an often riveting tête à tête. As the film opens, Onoff (Depardieu) is a mysterious figure running madly through the woods in a driving rainstorm when he encounters the police and is stopped and arrested. At the station, he fumes while the officers wait for the arrival of the “inspector,” played by Polanski, who begins a concentrated interrogation. Although Depardieu’s identity as a world-famous author is rather quickly revealed, a body has been found nearby with the face mutilated beyond recognition, and the inspector intends to find out what has occurred. We’re quickly caught up in the mystery as it becomes clear that Onoff isn’t telling the truth, and his weak, “I don't remember,” sounds inordinately suspicious.

But A Pure Formality is much more than a simple murder mystery. As the intense repartee continues, the use of subliminal flashbacks, the physical confusion caused by the storm (the roof leaks relentlessly), and the alternating domination of the inspector and the suspect construct a fascinating and powerful tension. But even as we’re trying to figure out the puzzle, the film quickly picks up the pace and drives toward an absolutely superb and thought-provoking climax. Tornatore has already proven he is a master of nuance and atmosphere, and here he reaffirms that reputation. A Pure Formality’s masterful performances and compelling tale announce definitively that he is director of remarkably diverse talents.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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