This film clearly introduces Pasolini’s penchant for Christian art. The first scene, the pimp Carmine’s wedding, resembles Da Vinci’s , where Mamma Roma gets drunk and exchanges flowery songs with the bride and groom, mocking her former pimp in all her newly acquired freedom. One technique Pasolini explores in this film is the long shot, which he uses in the nighttime scenes when Mamma Roma is back out on the street, recounting stories or complaining in sobs while different men or groups of men walk alongside her in the bright light backdrop. The thematic content of the movie is a progression of the things that already concerned the director in his earlier work, and with this film he scrapes away the surface of the grimy streets to find not only religious influences, but simultaneously Marxist ones. In one part of the film, after the mother and son do a rough tango dance to a specific song on a record, the son then takes the record to sell to some outdoor vendor so he can have money to buy a local floozy some jewelry, all with the intention to take her to their special spot for sex again. The mother remarked about the magic of the song on the record, and how meaningful it was to her, but the son needed to use the market as his means for accessing the fruition of his desire. The mother then doesn’t want him going around with a girl like that, so she convinces one of her better prostitute friends to sleep with her son, so as to redirect his desire to a healthier place. The mother and son continue to get along more and more, coming to an ultimate point when she uses her money saved up for the pimp to buy her son a motorcycle. But things start to fall apart, and take a drastic and immediate turn for the worse when he finds out about her hidden line of work.
In (1962) Pasolini began overtly flirting with religious material, and with this movie he dives right into the source itself. The biggest artistic leap with this movie is his jump in scenery. Although Pasolini still concerns himself with the poor, the lower class, the powerless (in earthly terms), the landscape shots expand beyond the scope of the previous movies.
Do we want to be liberated? Is it easier to pretend that the old victor/victim paradigm and the old violation/vengeance paradigm are the most useful? Do we want to think? How much are we willing to learn, to know? What will we no longer refuse to remember? What must we learn to forgive? “It is in the editing that stylization takes place,” declared Pasolini (Heretical Empiricism; 230); well, it is in the editing that consciousness is shaped as well. In , Pier Paolo Pasolini is restless, not satisfied with the inherited assumptions regarding Africa nor even with his own best assumptions. He is open to new knowledge; and in the film gives us a model for facilitating that—going to the subject under concern (Africa), documenting what he finds (beauty, contradiction, need, possibility), comparing that with what he knows, with the insights of art and ideology, asking others for their perspective. “Using high-contrast black and white film, Pasolini exhibits his usual skill in the choice of faces: his reflections on the black physiognomy of Greek myth are captivating. The visual translation of the Erinyes, a sequence of thirteen shots of trees and plants bent by the wind, is also shown with great aesthetic effect. The images of laborers in the fields and of objects such as utensils and boats lying in the solitude of a black sun are torturously elegiac,” wrote Maurizio Viano (A Certain Realism; 253). How can anyone not see an affirmation of Africa—its land, its people, its potential—that does not deny truth in
“The reality of the human world is nothing more than this double representation in which we are both actors and spectators: a gigantic happening, if you will,” wrote Pasolini in his article “The Written Language of Reality” in Heretical Empiricism (page 204): not, either/or but both, just as in the Aeschylus plays many of the characters are both cruel and wounded, with their awareness of their wounds usually being the thing that gives them license to be cruel. It is important to move beyond the victor/victim paradigm: important, as the paradigm is not true to life always; and important because the paradigm can be murderous or deadening if it is the only perspective that is used to interpret reality. By seeing the development of African society as carrying democratic potential, and useful historical and spiritual knowledge, things that could connect with, draw from, and even instruct western culture, Pier Paolo Pasolini offered an interpretation that could be confining or liberating—but, it seems to me, it is an interpretation that is liberating.
Did Pasolini think of Africa as primitive, irrational? (What else is the root of all religion but primitive feeling and thought made into spiritual and social practices—given form, given words and images and rituals, for the address and alleviation of emotional and moral concerns?) Is seeing a European achievement as a goal for Africa, or African nations, a prejudice? Is seeing (Greek) democracy as attractive, as necessary, as a fulfillment of an African nation’s potential a racialist view? Or is it an understandable humane, and philosophical, ambition, a sign of empathy and expectation, rather than disregard? European arrogance—and, European cultural domination: those are often the charges when a standard identified as European is brought to bear on people who are not European. However, we—and, we are many people in most parts of the world—use various scientific discoveries, various tools and implements, that do not originate in our own families, cities, or nations. Why not implement ideas and ideals that are equally fine? Why limit ourselves to perpetually doing or thinking everything on our own, on doing everything over, such as reinventing the wheel, just so that we can claim the results as entirely our own? Decades after Pasolini conducted his survey of Africa for his , we have seen the results of African self-determination in places such as Uganda, and the results have been the most outrageous lawlessness and murder, and great poverty for many citizens.
Pasolini, a filmmaker, philosopher, and poet, was murdered in 1975 so his censorship-flaunting films may be unknown to contemporary film audiences. He had leftist leanings, an openly gay lifestyle, and unvarnished contempt for the bourgeoisie. That aside, Pasolini was a gifted artist whose films proclaimed his personal views on society. The Trilogy of Life broke through a lot of conventional barriers, displaying a contemptuous disregard for ratings. While human sexuality takes numerous literal and figurative shots below the belt, Pasolini also takes dead aim at other elements of society, clergy, artists, gays, business folk, faithless spouses and randy youths. Doubtless, some viewers may be offended by the continued outpouring of nudity and sex shown in these films. However, moviegoers who approach the Trilogy with open minds will find something to enjoy in each of these well-directed, well-scripted and, on occasion, unabashedly humorous films.
Nine of the one hundred original stories make up The Decameron, now relocated from Florence to Naples. As the film opens, a naïve young man (Franco Citti who appears in all three films) is swindled and unceremoniously tossed in the crapper. Other tales include the sexual adventures of some horny nuns, a painter (played by Pasolini) seeking “divine” inspiration for a church mural, and the question of life after death caused by excessive sex. The Decameron has a pretty earthy looking cast of mostly nonprofessional actors (with lots of bad teeth).
Not to downplay the greatness of (1961), but Pasolini’s second feature film, (1962) is without a doubt a breakthrough for the director. It’s a tragicomedy that boasts a fantastic lead actress, Anna Magnani, who plays the titular character, an ex-prostitute who dreams of moving to Rome with her estranged son. However, her old pimp (played by Accattone actor Franco Citti) asks her to go back out on the street for about two weeks before heading off to Rome. Her plans are interrupted, and her son falls prey to the rural spirit of scum around town.
“It is therefore absolutely necessary to die, , and the language of our lives (with which we express ourselves, and to which we therefore attribute the greatest importance) is untranslatable; a chaos of possibilities, a search for relations and meanings without resolution.”
—Pasolini, “Observations on the Sequence Shot,” Heretical Empiricism
When the movie begins, we get street interviews about a man who gave his factory over to the workers, accompanied by an onslaught of communist jargon and implications being thrown at the former factory owner from journalists, and followed by sepia shots of each family member individually. The house guest is seen reading Rimbaud out on the lawn and turning into an object of affection and fascination for each family member including and beginning with the maid. The maid cleans up after him; the son has him in his room, sleeping next to him; the daughter pulls him along with her to a room where they look at old photos; the mother sets up a situation where he can stumble upon her while she’s nude; and the father goes out for a drive into the boonies where they trade playful boxing punches. But the focus isn’t on how easy it is for this guy to get laid, because after he leaves in the middle of the film we see how each family member deals with the repercussions of desire met and abandoned, not fully satisfied with its transience in fulfillment. By making a character that we have as many questions about as the characters do, Pasolini shows the ultimate draw of mystery and the unknown pleasures it activates in the human being by illuminating something the subject didn’t know he or she had. He also shows the sharp character transformations that occur when that object of desire, fantasy, mystery moves out of each individual life, and inspires madness in its many multiple forms.
Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975), a filmmaker, a poet, a novelist, a playwright, a painter, a critic and intellectual, was not only one of Italy’s most prominent figures for much of his life, he remains that, but, more importantly, he is a figure who belongs to the world. His work explores the history, tradition, and important ideas that both found and critique western civilization; and he ventured beyond the west. Pier Paolo Pasolini made films focused on ancient Greek art and culture (, or , 1967; and, , 1969), important literature (, 1971; , 1972; and , 1975), and on religious subjects (, 1963; and , 1964), as well as on modern life with all its contradictions, decadence, and repressed possibility (, 1961; , 1962; and , 1969). Pier Paolo Pasolini was complex as a personality, philosopher, and political participant: he embodied the virtues of society and also its transgressions. His personal relationships with boys and men were scandalous and brought him into contact with the law; and his equally controversial art—carnal, intellectual, spiritual—focused on matters he considered personal and political; and his politics—his affirmation of workers, of the dispossessed— challenged the status quo. Pier Paolo Pasolini was hero; and he was other. Pasolini made documentaries on Palestine (, or ,1964), and on love and sex (, or ,1964), and on India (, 1969); and his documentary on Africa confirms his commitments.