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 – 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”.