Review by Ed Nguyen
Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Audio: Italian 1.0
Video: Black & white, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Short film La ricotta, interviews, Pasolini documentary, trailer, booklet
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: June 22, 2004
you do to your mother will come back around to you."
Paolo Pasolini was without question among the most controversial of contemporary
Italian directors. An out-spoken,
inflammatory filmmaker, Pasolini had been an established novelist, poet, and
essayist before entering the film industry in 1954 to write screenplays.
Some of his early script collaborations included those for Fellini's The
Nights of Cabiria and Bolognini's La
Notte Brava. Pasolini's own
directorial debut, Accattone, came in
1961 and was an adaptation of his own 1959 novel, Una Vita Violenta (A Violent
Life). The film was
quintessential Pasolini, depicting the miserable squalor and grim existence of
city life for the destitute Italian lower classes.
The novel and the film were even semi-autobiographical, drawing upon some
of Pasolini's own memories of his troubled youth.
sophomoric effort, Mamma Roma (1962),
again focused upon the common masses. Its
central character, Mamma Garofolo, was a prostitute whose desire to provide for
her young son's future compelled her to alter her lifestyle, abandoning the
night life for an honest profession. Filmed in the neorealist tradition, Mamma Roma featured the legendary Italian actress Anna Magnani, who
had also appeared in Rossellini's Open
City, the first film to widely popularize Italian neorealism.
Pasolini was able to hone Magnini's explosive energy and theatrical flair
into a focused and powerful performance for his story of a parent's love and
sacrifice for her child.
Garofolo, who portrays the son, was in actuality a nonprofessional who Pasolini
had spotted one day waiting tables. Ettore
uses his real name in his role as a typical Italian teenager, full of machismo,
caught in the confusing transient years between childhood and full adulthood.
film opens with a prologue at a countryside wedding reception.
We are introduced to the character of Mamma Roma, a rambunctious and loud
woman. She is occasionally
rude-mouthed and freely expressive. The
wedding, we learn, is between Mamma's former lover/pimp, Carmine (Franco Citti),
and a country girl. It will mark
Mamma's "freedom" and so she gives the union her blessings in her own
spirited manner. As the prologue
closes, Mamma's young son, Ettore, appears briefly, engaging in an innocent
dance with his mother.
film then jumps sixteen years into the future, when we see Mamma returning to
the countryside to retrieve her son. We
are never informed of the manner of Ettore's upbringing in the intervening
years, nor do we learn of his father. Nevertheless,
Ettore accompanies his mother to his new home in Rome, where he is initially ill
at ease. While Mamma works
respectably now as a vendor, Ettore eventually adapts to his new environs,
though perhaps not in a manner approved by his mother.
He possesses a certain purity of character that is slowly corrupted by
the unscrupulous friends he makes and the promiscuous women with whom he
associates among the slums of the city. The
revealed truth of his mother's past, and Carmine's reappearance, ultimately set
in motion traumatic events that will lead to the film's melancholy conclusion.
employs a great deal of religious allusions in Mamma Roma, and the character of Ettore may be seen, in a symbolic
fashion, as one born of immaculate conception (the identity of Ettore's father,
if there is one, is never revealed). There
is also a vague suggestion of Mamma's character as a contemporary representation
of the Virgin Mary, with the added twist of Mamma's former profession creating
an uncomfortable balance between a Madonna-and-Whore symbolism.
Even the film's raucous wedding reception is constructed in a manner
reminiscent of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper."
thus be seen as a religious allegory in addition to being Pasolini's critical
commentary of the Italian social hierarchy.
Pasolini was loathed of postwar Italian politics, which still contained
remnants of the Fascism that he despised. His
films commonly featured a provincial "noble peasant" character,
usually one that was eventually destroyed figuratively or literally by his
exposure to the debauchery and moral decay of urban consumerism, as may be seen
in Mamma Roma.
generally well-received, but Pasolini's strong religious views, which became
progressively provocative in his subsequent directorial efforts, increasingly
brought the ire of the Catholic Church upon the director.
Mamma Roma was even temporarily
censured after causing a minor riot by neo-Fascist students at its Roman
premiere. Pasolini's next film, the
infamous La ricotta episode from the
film RoGoPaG, parodied the popular
Hollywood Biblical epics of the day in a sort of Theater of the Absurd style,
but its unflattering depiction of the Church resulted in condemnation of the
director as well as a farcical trial for vulgarity and obscenity.
In fact, the degree of sex, violence, and anti-establishmentarian
mentality in many of Pasolini's films often led to not-infrequent bans or
distribution delays of those films. While
Mamma Roma is comparatively tame,
Pasolini's later films, such as SalÚ
or The Decameron, would push the limits of decency in cinema even by
was killed at a relatively young age in 1975, his death being perhaps every bit
as graphic and outrageous as any of his films.
The director, having angered a young man, had been bludgeoned to death by
the man and then run over by his own Alfa Romeo. It was a gory and violent conclusion to a controversial life,
but given Pasolini's views and out-spoken opinions, the outcome was an ironic
though poetic close to a mercurial career.
Pasolini would probably not have had it any other way.
presented in its original black & white 1.85:1 widescreen format. The transfer was created from a 35mm fine-grain master
positive created from the restored original negative.
The restoration effort was a collaboration between Gruppo Mediaset and Il
Centro Sperimentale per la Cinematografia Cineteca Nazionale.
For the most part, the film looks quite nice.
The black & white cinematography is sharp and detailed, and the print
itself is fairly pristine with little in the way of scratches or dust marks. Contrast levels are solid with no wash-out of the images.
I did not see any glaring compression defects, either.
All in all, this is a fine video presentation.
film is presented in Italian monaural mastered from the 35mm optical soundtrack
print. Dialogue is crystal-clear,
although it is entirely post-dubbed, as was the norm with most Italian films of
this period. The monophonic sound
is understandably somewhat limited in range, but since the film is
dialogue-driven, this is not really a problem.
as a two-disc set from Criterion. The
film is located on disc one, which displays rotoscoped animated menus while the
film's Vivaldi soundtrack plays in the background.
This disc also holds a trailer for the film and an art gallery with 52
photos. The gallery contains
posters for Mamma Roma as well as for RoGoPaG
(1963), a religious compilation film featuring four short works by directors
Rossellini, Godard, Pasolini, and Gregoretti (the compilation's title is derived
from the last names of the four directors).
contribution to RoGoPaG was the
35-minute short film La ricotta.
Included on disc two, this highly-controversial tale relates a day in the
filming of a passion play about the crucifixion of Christ.
Somewhat light-hearted and mocking in tone, it focuses upon Stracci, an
extra in the production's cast. He
plays one of the thieves to be crucified alongside Christ, and the film is
essentially a long, running joke about Stracci's inability to find the time to
eat his lunch. La
ricotta was shot mostly in black & white, with brief color sequences
carefully composed to recall the paintings of Rosso Fiorentino or Jacopo
Pontormo (such as "Descent from the Cross" from the Church of Santa
Felicita in Florence).
starts with a brief note from Pasolini proclaiming his devotion to Catholicism.
The film is even self-referential; Orson Welles (who has a role as the
film's director) at one point recites lines from a Pasolini poem.
A copy of Mamma Roma is
prominently displayed in the film. Welles's character is perhaps a
thinly-disguised alter ego for Pasolini and allows the director to sprout some
rather inflammatory remarks concerning Italy's petit
bourgeois, the Church's "profound, secret, archaic Catholicism,"
and Italians in general ("the most illiterate masses....in Europe").
The actors in the production are mockeries of their religious namesakes -
Magdalene dances a vulgar striptease, the Madonna is portrayed as an arrogant
prima donna, and the Christ actor is a bit of a beatnik.
Hints of homoeroticism and sexual undercurrents also abound in the film.
course, La ricotta, although decidedly
subversive, was not meant to be taken seriously, as is evident by an opening
scene in which the actors dance the Twist during a break in filming.
A sped-up sequence in the middle of the film gives it a further decidedly
comic tone, recalling the early silent comedies.
There is a talking dog, too!
of the satirical tone of the film, the Church did not take kindly to the film,
particularly to the comments by the Welles character. Movie audiences were understandably perplexed about the film
as well, perhaps unsure how to interpret Welles's declaration that the average
man was "a monster, a dangerous criminal,...a mediocrity."
For "insulting the religion of the state" with this short film,
Pasolini was prosecuted and sentenced to prison (fortunately for the director,
his conviction was later overturned). Ironically,
Pasolini's next film, which garnered favorable critic and public approval, would
be an actual passion play about Christ, The
Gospel According to St. Matthew!
interested in learning more about the life of this controversial director will
want to check out Pier Paolo Pasolini,
a 58-minute 1995 documentary included on the disc and covering the director's
life and career. The documentary
contains numerous clips from Pasolini's films (warning: some of these clips are explicit) as well as footage of the
director during production, in interviews, and in still photographs.
The documentary may not entirely elucidate the intriguing thought
processes of the man behind such explicit films as The
Canterbury Tales, Oedipus Rex, or SalÚ - The 120 Days of Sodom,
but it does provide some insight into the personal beliefs or paradoxical views
(his intense hatred of Fascism, his devout Catholicism, his latent
homosexuality, his unresolved Oedipal complex, etc.) which combined to define
this complex director.
two also contains three brief interviews. First
is a 6-minute segment with director Bernardo Bertolucci, who served as an
assistant director on Pasolini's Accattone. Next is a
9-minute interview with Tonino Delli Colli, Pasolini's favorite cinematographer,
who worked on the majority of Pasolini's fourteen films; the cinematographer
discusses the influence of religious paintings, especially Mantegna's "Dead
Christ," upon Mamma Roma.
The final 9-minute spot allows Enzo Siciliano, author of a biography on
the director, an opportunity to discuss actress Anna Magnani's role in the film
as well as the allusions and imageries, fashioned after Italian Mannerist
paintings, used in Mamma Roma.
Criterion includes a very nice 30-page booklet containing numerous interviews,
excerpts, and essays about Pasolini and his films. An essay by Gary Indiana, film historian and author,
discusses the history and background of Mamma
Roma and La ricotta and their
general impact on Pasolini's career. There
are several interviews between Pasolini and Oswald Stack, who also contributes
an excerpt from his book Pasolini on
Pasolini. In these interviews,
Pasolini expounds upon his views of the Italian social structure and universal
themes in his films (death, religion, subproletarian life, etc.).
Lastly, an excerpt is provided from Enzo Siciliano's 1982 biography Pasolini,
which discusses La ricotta.
BONUS: Giorgio Bassani dubs the
voice for Orson Welles in La ricotta.