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Blu-Ray Review: Radiance Films’ The Working Class Goes to Heaven (Limited Edition)

the working class go to heaven

Radiance Films launches in 2023 with a very well-timed Blu-ray debut – the Cannes Palme d’Or winning film The Working Class Goes to Heaven, from one of Italy’s most political filmmakers, Elio Petri.

Watching The Working Class Goes to Heaven for the very first time in a country where the wealthy appear to be getting wealthier, yet stagnant wages and worsening working conditions leave thousands of key workers with no other option but to strike in demand of improvement, Radiance Films couldn’t have chosen a more apt film with which to start the year.

The Working Class Goes to Heaven takes place in Italy in 1971, a time of unrest in which left-wing student groups are vocal against the corruption of capitalism, urging factory workers to wake up to the realisation of their situation. One of these workers is Lulù (Gian Maria Volonté), whose machine-like approach to his work ensures that he is almost single-handedly increasing productivity in the factory where he works. But his co-workers can’t match his pace, and his success rate raises management expectations of what can be produced during a working day. Outside of the factory, Lulù has one broken marriage behind him and is in the middle of another rocky relationship which is suffering as a result of his daily toil. An industrial accident then radicalises Lulù, and he unwittingly becomes the face of the workplace revolution.

Filmed in a factory in Northern Italy and using some of the workers as extras, director Elio Petri paints a picture of an ordinary man looking for his place in the world, and gradually realising that it has already been allotted to him as a result of his class and education. It pits the ideological students, most of whom have not done a day’s hard labour before, against the realities of the working class man, scraping lire here and there to put food on the table for the family. And of course it viciously shows up the divide between workers and management, those who exploit and those who are exploited.

Although it’s highly likely that many of the things portrayed in the film happened in one way or another to the workers of Novara and any number of other Italian towns, the film doesn’t claim to be based on ‘a true story’, but it does have an almost documentary-style feel to it. This is in no small part down to an outstanding performance by Gian Maria Volonté, who embodies Lulù to such perfection that it’s difficult to accept that he hasn’t been working on the production line all his life. 

Luigi Kuveiller’s camera follows Lulù’s face throughout, so that we see his gradual breakdown on the horizon, and the choppy film editing of Ruggero Mastroianni adds a feeling of urgency and a lack of control to Lulù’s journey.

With additional interviews and archival documentary footage exploring the realities of the time in more depth, along with some of the cast and crew’s own political backgrounds, The Working Class Goes to Heaven is a politically charged film of the early 1970s which unfortunately also resonates today.

The Radiance Films Limited Edition Blu-ray comes with the following 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 – A visual essay by scholar Matthew Kowalski on Petri’s relationship with left-wing politics and its impact on his cinema 
  • The Working Class Goes to Heaven – Background to a Film Shot in Novara (2006), by Serena Checcucci and Enrico Omodeo Salé; an unconventional making-of documentary, exploring the real-life factory location where the film was shot and the story behind the film’s production there, as told by the staff, film extras and crew 
  • Trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Time Tomorrow
  • Limited edition booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Eugenio Renzi, Elio Petri Investigation of a Filmmaker author Roberto Curti on Petri and Volonté’s collaborations and relationship, archival writing, and reviews to be confirmed 
  • Limited edition of 2000 copies, presented in full-height Scanavo packaging with removable OBI strip leaving packaging free of certificates and markings 

The Working Class Goes to Heaven is available from Radiance Films from 2nd January 2023.

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