Francesco Rosi, the insufficiently heralded Italian master best known for his socially engaged films, who, at 89, is being honored with Venice’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, kicked off his career on the Lido where his first feature “La sfida” (“The Challenge”) scooped the Special Jury prize in 1958.

Rosi cites the influence of both neorealism and American directors Elia Kazan and John Huston on his debut work about a small-time Neapolitan hoodlum who challenges the crime syndicate over control of the local vegetable market.

But he also notes that by his third work, the 1962 “Salvatore Giuliano,” his aesthetic had evolved toward “my own type of linguistic invention within critical realism.”

Rosi’s signature style in “Giuliano,” a meticulously documented investigation into the 1950 assassination of a legendary Sicilian bandit, consists in hardly ever showing the protagonist, an original narrative device “unheard of in American cinema of the day,” he points out.

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Venice topper Alberto Barbera praises Rosi for his “absolute rigor in historic reconstruction, never making any compromises on a political or ethical level, combined with engaging storytelling and splendid visuals.”

In 1963 Venice awarded Rosi the Golden Lion for “Hands Over the City,” an expose of rapacious real-estate developers and their political cronies in Naples.

The Lido will screen a freshly restored copy of the “The Mattei Affair” (1972), an investigation of a still-mysterious death that delves into big oil, capitalism and global economics, and is still “so absolutely actual,” according to Barbera.

Says Rosi: “I always felt an urgency to make a type of cinema that would help understand the reality of things; the reality of politics, of economics, and also of criminal society, which are all closely interconnected. These links are even worse today, and even more worrying.”