Monday, September 08, 2008

Mamma Roma (1962) & Teorema (1968)

I've been watching some Pasolini movies for the last couple of weeks to gear up for watching the new Criterion DVD of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

First, Mamma Roma, which is a sort of updated Neorealist parable about a middle-aged prostitute's attempt to break way from her sordid lifestyle, for the sake of her teenage son - do I need to say that it doesn't have a happy ending? What's most interesting to me about this film is the performance by the brassy, sassy Anna Magnani as Mamma Roma, the kind of virtuoso almost-over-the-top performance that only an experienced, trained actor can give. This is ironic since in most of his films, Pasolini preferred to use non-professional actors, or at least non-stars, and in his own words, Magnani took her performance beyond what he had in mind for it. And yet, probably because of the friction between Pasolini's detached direction and Magnani's empathic, expressive performance, this is the most emotionally affective Pasolini movie that I've seen.

Second, Teorema, which consists of a sort of detached analysis of a bourgeois Italian family who fall under the sway of a mysterious stranger (Terence Stamp) who has sex with everybody and seems to enthrall them before leaving abruptly, letting them flail about in his life-changing wake. This one falls into the category of 'more interesting than good'. It's a highly intellectualized, distanced film, the kind where you're not really supposed to identify with the 'characters' (who are all sociopolitical types anyway) and rather to ponder what it all means, perhaps in a bistro over tiny cups of coffee.

I didn't dislike it, and it has sporadic scenes that are as good as anything else I've seen by Pasolini - the sequences in which the family housekeeper retreats to a village and seems to become a saintly figure, capable of healing boils and levitating are especially good - but that's in large part because of the performance by Laura Betti, who we actively are drawn to and empathize with, not necessarily because of the atheistic/Marxist ideas Pasolini is playing with.

But anyway, that's one good sequence of scenes within a movie that is otherwise something of a slog.

Next up: The Canterbury Tales and Salo itself, wish me luck!

Mamma Roma: 8/10
Teorema: 5/10


Alexander Coleman said...

I agree with you about Mamma Roma: it's an ironic film from Pasolini. Magnani makes it more emotionally powerful and affecting than just about anything Pasolini made. Her performance is, in so many ways, in defiance of what Pasolini usually set out to accomplish, even in this film, as he himself said.

Teorema, I agree again, just about word for word with you. I'd only add that I think Terrence Stamp is rather winning in his role, though the film does test one's patience.

Sam Juliano said...

Alexander, I would agree with you on the "more emotionally powerful and affecting" comment if it were not for THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. MATTHEW, which may edge it out,for intrinsic emotions connected to the story. But I agree with what you say about Magnani's performance as well as the film's irony. I think Jeff has nailed this neo-realist film in his excellent capsule, and same with TEORMENA, which does test one's patience.
I would love to get Jeff's take on ACCETTONE and PORCILE. Now these are fascinating films! But if you're going the route of SALO and CT, we will be here reading and commenting! I see many are making a big deal over the fact that the Criterion is missing 25 seconds. I don't find it too big an issue myself.
Terrific post here Jeff.

Jeff McMahon said...

Sam, I have not seen Porcile, although I did see Accattone a few years ago. I think reviews of them will have to wait until the next time I cycle around to Pasolini in the future.

Alex, what I think is interesting about Mamma Roma is the unexpected - and for Pasolini, unwanted - cross-pollination between two actors, himself and Magnani, which resulted in something more interesting and more emotional than would have otherwise happened, like a happy accident of art.