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Festooned with European prizes and an Academy Award nomination, this solid, well-acted humanist period drama—adapted by director Gianni Amelio and Vincenzo Cerami from a novel by Leonardo Sciascia—makes its points quietly but firmly (1990). In 1937 in Palermo, Sicily, a recently fired accountant (Ennio Fantastichini) cold-bloodedly murders his former boss, the accountant who replaced him, and his own wife (after raping her). He makes no effort to resist arrest or defend himself and expects to be executed by a firing squad. But one of the judges (Gian Maria Volonte), a pensive widower opposed to the death penalty, insists on drawing out the trial and finding a way to save the killer, despite the opposition of the chief magistrate and all the other judges but one, a farmer (Renato Carpentieri). There are few fireworks in this courtroom drama, but the film acquires a genuine sense of mass and moral weight as it develops.

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