Enrico Mattei, an Italian oil tycoon, emerged after the Second World War, as one of the most powerful figures in his country. His influence, often an alienating one, reached into China, Russia, France, and the United States. His reputation grew to mythical dimensions as he became known at home and abroad as 'the most powerful Italian since Caesar". Both a champion of the people, and a representative of the interests of the State, he is revealed in Rosi's film as a charming tyrant.
Rosi is faithful to his material and offers no simple explanation of his character. We are introduced, in interviews with his real-life acquaintances, to various impressions of the man, each view reflecting the relationship of the speaker to Mattei. Throughout, he remains an enigma. His death in a plane crash in 1962, in the week before he was to be the subject of a 'Time' cover story, led to numerous rumours about political assassination, but no concrete evidence of this emerged from post-mortems.