A new boutique Blu-ray label launching in 2023 specialising in “world cinema, cult classics and rediscovered gems,” Radiance open their catalogue with Elio Petri’s multi-award winning 1971 class war drama The Working Class Goes to Heaven (La classe operaia va in paradiso, also known as Lulu the Tool), restored in 2K with newly translated subtitles and released alongside Kôsaku Yamashita’s Big Time Gambling Boss from 1968.
Starring A Fistful of Dollars’ Gian Maria Volonté, he is Ludovico “Lulù” Massa, a man obsessed with his work, abrupt with his colleagues and detached from his girlfriend and her son, his own wife and child now living with factor co-worker Bassi (The Seduction of Mimi’s Luigi Diberti), ignoring safety instructions in order to achieve unrealistic goals and incrementally increase his salary and as a result raising the targets for his fellow workers.
Productivity measured with a stopwatch and a checklist while the factory owners communicate with those on the shopfloor via the Tannoy system, outside the gates and high fences like those of a prison two forces are camped, the representatives of the unions and the anarchist students, both calling for contradictory changes while the workers themselves are caught between, men of little education and no transferrable skills, cogs in the machine pinned in place, unable to escape the system that uses them as it wears them down.
Lulù losing his finger, his girlfriend Lidia (Flash Gordon’s Mariangela Melato) and finally his job, as hard as he works he will never see the benefit of his labour; his friend having been institutionalised, is Lulù going similarly mad, the chimpanzee who thinks it is a human in the newspaper story he reads, or rather is he being driven mad by the situation he finds himself in, intolerable yet with no alternative, men perpetually shouting over the inescapable sound of the machines while outside facile slogans are chanted through megaphones.
With Ennio Morricone’s sparse soundtrack emphasising industrial noise and the rhythms of military marches as the workers unite against their oppressive regime, The Working Class Goes to Heaven offers little respite or comfort, a treadmill of a film where conditions do not change or improve, the unyielding demands of the factory and the need to earn wages forcing the workers to submit even though the reluctance to improve conditions provokes strikes and rioting, a film released five decades ago as depressingly relevant and valid now as it was then.
Gian Maria Volonté having died in 1991, he is represented on the new edition of The Working Class Goes to Heaven in an archive television interview alongside a visual essay by Matthew Kowalski, an appreciation of Volonté and the film by Alex Cox, a 2006 documentary on the production shot at the original factory site in Novaro in north west Italy and archive interviews with director Elio Petri and actor Corrado Solari who plays one of the new recruits Lulù is grudgingly obliged to train.