REVIEW – Oedipus Rex (1967)

ORFilmJuice have my review of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s wonderful adaptation of Oedipus Rex.

While I am a huge fan of Pasolini’s work, his films always leave me feeling as though I have had to fight Pasolini tooth and nail in order to extract a coherent message from an enormous pile of idiosyncratically juxtaposed signs and portents. Indeed, if you read my review of Pasolini’s contribution to the short film collection RoGoPaG you will have noticed that I genuinely have no idea what it was that he was trying to say with his weird Christ/Cheese metaphor. As a result, it was somewhat refreshing to encounter an example of what Pasolini could achieve when working with a text that is already quite well understood.

Based on the classical play by Sophocles, Pasolini’s Oedipus Rex offers a moving commentary on the fact that even the most concerted rebels and outcasts are doomed to assume the roles vacated by their parents. Re-issued by Master of Cinema alongside a series of other Pasolini titles, Oedipus Rex is a useful point of entry into one of the 20th Century’s most challenging and unusual filmmakers. Indeed, having now seen Oedipus Rex, Pasolini’s Pigsty makes a good deal more sense.

Oedipus Rex is one of the most beautiful films ever made. Its opening sequences of people running around a field are fiercely reminiscent of the whispered awe that flows throughout the films of Terrence Malick. Pasolini captures the North African landscape with the eye of a painter, the deep red of the sand constantly at war with the brilliant blue of the sky while the film’s outlandish costumes seem to shriek defiance at the heavens themselves. We are here! We are human! We exist! Staggeringly beautiful, the film’s production design is reminiscent of what might have happened had the surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky been recruited to direct films like 300 and Immortals.

If you are looking for an intelligent and staggeringly beautiful art house film then please look no further than the BD edition of Oedipus Rex.  This is staggeringly good cinema.

REVIEW – RoGoPaG (1963)

FilmJuice have my review of the really rather wonderful 1960s Italian anthology film RoGoPaG. Comprising three short films directed by Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti, RoGoPaG is funny, satirical, gnomic and misogynistic in equal parts but the satire and humour of Passolini and Goretti more than make up for the pretentiousness and misogyny of Godard and Rossellini.

The film begins poorly with a well made but ultimately insipid morality tale by Roberto Rossellini in which an innocent and matronly airhostess (Rosanna Schiaffino) reinvents herself as a ‘whore’ in order to escape the attentions of a horny businessman. Schiaffino is undoubtedly charismatic but her charms simply cannot make up for the grinding misogyny of the film’s themes and plot.

Much like Pigsty and Hawks and Sparrows, Pasolini’s short film “La Ricotta” is a joyous avalanche of images and symbols that communicate mood far more effectively than they communicate ideas. The film revolves around an attempt to make a film about the Crucifixion that ends with one of the bit players dying on the cross as a result of eating too much cheese. Pasolini was evidently sent to prison for making the film and, to be honest, I can see why as the anger and hostility to organised religion are clear even though the exact nature of that anger is much harder to discern. The best short film in the collection is also the product of the least well-known director. Ugo Gregoretti’s “Il Polo Ruspante” is a well-observed and viciously delivered critique of Italian post-War consumerism in which a small family travel across the country while being fleeced by everyone they enter into contact with.

REVIEW – Hawks and Sparrows (1966)

FilmJuice have my review of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s postmodern/religious fable Hawks and Sparrows (a.k.a. Uccellacci e Uccellini).

Much like Pasolini’s Pigsty, Hawks and Sparrows comes across as an intensely weird and inaccessible piece of film making. Filled with portentous images as well as characters and narratives that make very little in the way of sense, both films are products of a time when the fundamental grammar of film was in the process of revision/ The works of Pier Paolo Pasolini feel far stranger than contemporary works such as Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad or Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura because Pasolini has proved to be a far less influential filmmaker than either Resnais or Antonioni. Contemporary audiences can easily decode L’Avventura because L’Avventura contains a number of techniques which, though radical at the time, have since entered the mainstream of film and TV. Conversely, the works of Pasolini contain ideas and techniques that are seldom used in contemporary art house film and so they seem as radically odd now as they did when they first appeared in the 1960s. As I put it in the actual review:

Once you accept that Hawks and Sparrows is little more than a cavalcade of images and references, the film becomes a good deal more enjoyable. Freed from the need to present an argument or tell a coherent story, Pasolini plays with the fabric of our dreams to present a succession of memorable cinematic images including dark-eyed girls with angelic wings, rampaging monks and an aging clown who is suddenly gripped by a lust for life in all its pulchritudinous glory. Hawks and Sparrows is neither particularly entertaining, nor particularly profound. However, despite the film’s decidedly experimental and disposable feel, it remains a timely reminder of quite how brave and innovative art house filmmaking can be when it decides to start rattling cages. At a time when every art house cinema seems filled with beautifully hollow dramas about beautifully hollow upper-class people, Masters of Cinema have allowed us the opportunity to (re) discover the work of a legitimately artistic and legitimately challenging filmmaker.

REVIEW – Pigsty (1969)

FilmJuice have my review of the recent Masters of Cinema release of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s uncanny masterpiece Pigsty.

Comprising two narrative strands, the film explores the way in which cultural elites undermine dissenting opinions by subsuming traditional vocabularies of dissent. In one strand, a young man wanders wordlessly around a volcanic landscape until he comes across a dead body which he promptly consumes. This act of consumption classifies the young man as an outcast and this outcast status allows him to acquire a following that eventually forces the local authorities to intervene. When the young man is finally given the opportunity to express himself in words, all he has to say for himself is:

I killed my father, I have eaten human flesh, and I quiver with joy.

The film’s second strand is set in the 1960s where another young man finds himself crushed between the capitalistic radicalism of his father and the logorrheic gibberrish of his leftist fiancee.  Denied the means with which to express himself as an individual, the boy retreats into a comatose state before finding some form of fulfillment in the act of fucking a pig.

Pigsty is an attempt to address the relationship between the generations and how difficult it can be for the young to express themselves when they are not the ones in control of society. Particularly striking is the way that Pasolini presents post-War German prosperity as little more than a repackaged version of the pre-War economic boom engineered by the Nazi government of the 1930s. With all of culture safely commoditised and filed away, what are today’s rebels to do but seek sanctuary in the most heinous acts imaginable? Windy, difficult and decidedly ‘of its time’ Pigsty remains a ceaseless beautiful and thought-provoking film by one of the great provocateurs and stylists of the European art house tradition.

The idea that cultural elites pull the ladder up behind them to ensure that nobody can rebel against them in the same way that they rebelled against previous generations will be familiar to those of you who have read Thomas Frank’s wonderful essay “Why Johnny Can’t Dissent”.