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Film / The Mattei Affair

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The Mattei Affair (Il caso Mattei) is a 1972 film from Italy directed by Francesco Rosi.

It is a biography of Italian bureaucrat and administrator Enrico Mattei. The film starts in 1945, right after the end of World War II. Mattei (Gian Maria Volonté) is put in charge of the Italian state-owned oil company, Agip, with the expectation that he will sell it off. However, Mattei resists pressure to sell Agip and its Italian oil assets to an oil conglomerate for pennies on the dollar. Instead, he preserves and builds Agip, an effort that is helped along in 1949 when Mattei and Agip discover rich reserves of natural gas in the Po River valley of northern Italy.

Mattei builds Agip into ENI ("Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi", or National Hydrocarbons Authority). This corporation, still a state-run enterprise, begins to challenge the "Seven Sisters" oil conglomerates that dominate oil extraction and refining in Africa and the Middle East. Mattei begins to make lots of enemies among the Seven Sisters as well as among the governments of countries like the United States and France that are basically owned by the Seven Sisters.


  • As Himself: Francesco Rosi appears towards the end as...Francesco Rosi, a director making a film about Enrico Mattei.
  • Biopic: Focusing on the career of Enrico Mattei as the head of the Italian oil and gas industry.
  • Car Bomb: Plane Bomb. It appears highly likely from the evidence that a bomb detonated on Mattei's plane as the pilot approached Milan airport. Italian authorities work as hard as they can to chalk the crash up as an accident, ignoring eyewitness testimony that the plane exploded in the air, as well as the scattered debris pattern and reports of suspicious personnel "inspecting" Mattei's plane shortly before it took off.
  • Eagleland: Flavor 2. Mattei dislikes the United States and particularly the American oil conglomerates that dominate worldwide oil production. He calls the Americans "bullies" and notes how Americans invented oblique drilling to suck up oil from other countries. He angrily stalks out of a meeting after an American oil man insults him. Another person says he overheard an American oil executive wondering why nobody had killed Mattei.
  • Flat Character: Enrico Mattei. We learn that he hates the dominance of Western oil conglomerates like Esso and Gulf Oil, that he wants to keep the Italian oil and gas industry in government hands, and that he fought against the fascists During the War. That's about all we do learn about him. He's married, but his wife is never even named.
  • Gratuitous English: Mattei jokes that he doesn't know English, then describes himself with the English words "self-made man".
  • How We Got Here: Starts with Mattei's death in an extremely suspicious plane crash in 1962. From there two parallel threads play out, the first being the "investigation" of the plane crash (really a desperate cover-up by the Italian government), and the second being Mattei's career as the head of Agip and later ENI.
  • "London, England" Syndrome: How to let the audience know that Mattei went to Moscow to make an oil deal with the Soviet government? Show him in line to see Lenin's tomb.
  • Match Cut: There is a cut from a still photo of the wreckage of Mattei's plane, to the actual wreckage of the plane, laid out in an airport hangar.
  • Shout-Out: A pretty goofy one, as a reporter suggests that De Mauro's disappearance bears the hallmark of "the Corleone Mafia". (Since this movie came out in the same year as The Godfather, presumably the real Shout-Out is to Mario Puzo's 1969 novel.)
  • Situational Sexuality: A visit to an isolated offshore oil rig has Mattei casually telling a reporter that there have been reports of homosexual incidents on the rig.
  • Talking Heads: Some real people appear as themselves talking about the career of Mattei, including one guy who speaks in English and wrote a book called "The Assassination of Mattei".
  • Title Drop: An Italian reporter named De Mauro, who is investigating Mattei's death and casting doubt on the official verdict of an accident, himself disappears without a trace in 1970. Two different reporters suggest that "the Mattei affair" may have been the reason De Mauro disappeared.
  • Walk and Talk: Mattei's busy life as head of ENI is demonstrated in a scene where he walks and talks with his secretary, telling her to contact a cabinet minister as well as "Düsseldorf", then taking questions from a skeptical reporter as he continues to walk to his car.