How can the average Marxist start putting his philosophy into practice in a Capitalist country? A nervous young man named Total starts with the little things in 1973's Property is No Longer a Theft (La proprietà non è più un furto). A film that's much more interesting than it is funny or viscerally appealing, its ideas of Capitalism versus Communism playing out in a personal battlefield are explored with nice sets, costumes, makeup, and a particularly good score from Ennio Morricone.
Total (Flavio Bucci) works in a bank despite the fact that he's allergic to money--after touching bills he compulsively scratches his face and hands. Considering the massive poster of Karl Marx in his home, it may be fair to call his condition psychosomatic.
His father (Salvo Randone) routinely tells Total that money is a reflection of self-worth, that the two of them are poor because it's what they deserve based on how society has reckoned things. Total boils in frustration all the while. At work, he develops a hatred for the Butcher (Ugo Tognazzi) who comes into the bank regularly and hands out meat. After watching a foiled robbery which ends with the Butcher viciously kicking one of the thieves on the ground, Total acquires a mad, fixated hatred for the Butcher.
He hates the Butcher so much he decides he wants to bring him down to the same level of poverty as himself. But the Butcher turns out to be improbably wealthy--he has a fabulous apartment and owns several buildings. Total's technique is steal the Butcher's small belongings, one at a time. First he steals his butcher knife and then his hat while he's masturbating in a porno theatre. He breaks into the Butcher's apartment where he finds a beautiful woman in pearls, Anita. He takes the pearls and fondles Anita's genitals--after all, no-one owns anything, even their own bodies.
It's fitting that Anita is played by Asia Argento's mother, Daria Nicolodi. As Asia Argento's campaign of vengeance disguised as altruistic crusade was eventually unmasked by her hypocrisy, the world depicted in Property is No Longer a Theft is one where people are inevitably motivated by a desire for dominance, whatever they may otherwise profess. In the first half of the movie, we are invited to laugh at the Butcher and Anita who do bear a resemblance to Boris and Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons.
Everyone seems aroused in a positively sexual manner by every transgression they get away with. The police detective investigating the thefts seems to struggle to withhold an orgasm as he talks about every detail of the crime. Anita switches between being horrified by Total to feeling pleased at getting one over on the Butcher, who it seems she was with only for the money. Maybe.
But the interplay between need and desire isn't so easily defined. Total finds he takes sadistic pleasure in the dominance he exerts through his random thefts. He glorifies in depriving the Butcher, Anita, and anyone else of a sense of control. In the end, no-one comes out of the movie looking especially good but the Butcher seems just a bit more honest with himself.
Property is No Longer a Theft is available on Amazon Prime.