Porcile (1969)

16 03 2011

The more I see from Pasolini, the more difficult I’m finding it to “get him” or just peg him into one unifying style. Again, the whole concept of him being a “messy” filmmaker is reinforced by the fact that he is juggling two completely different stories here. One seems more Pasolini-esque than the other. The cannibal story definitely sits quite comfortably alongside the ancient documentary aesthetic of Oedipus Rex and Il Vangelo secondo Matteo. There’s another story, though, and it seems to take up a larger part of the film. It involves the son of a German industrialist and his ambivalence towards his girlfriend, who his protesting the endeavors of a family friend.

If the cannibal storyline (featuring frequent Pasolini collaborator, Sergio Citti and the greatly underused Pierre Clementi) is indicative of Pasolini’s ability to tell story that are devoid of time but still feel quite real. It’s a nice sample of his ability as a filmmaker. Lots of camerawork following Clementi walking around as he looks for means of survival and almost no dialogue. It feels a little cheap to compare him to Herzog, but I guess that’s the only other guy who was doing this at the time. I tend to avoid the connection because Herzog relies on his films as observations, where as Pasolini’s work seems layered with meaning.

The other story is a complete 180, both in style and content. It involves the always enjoyable Jean Pierre Leaud and the lovely Anne Wiazemsky, but both neither has been so frustrating. Sure, they are nice to look at (in a purely physical way) and Pasolini’s Ozu-esque way of framing their faces is impressive, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen something so dry and stuffy. It’s hard to hold this as a negative, though, since it seems almost like a parody on the part of Pasolini. He’s juxtaposing something that emphasizes the visuals with something that is all about the dialogue.

As unsavory as the Leaud and Wiazemsky storyline is, it does manage to look nice. It gets a little repetitive after awhile, sure, but I think it’s a little unfair to dismiss the effort completely. Who knows, if these characters/mouthpieces were speaking English, would they be that far from the people that inhabit Hal Hartley’s world? I don’t think so, but that speaks to Hartley’s talents as a filmmaker. Pasolini deserves credit for trying this sort of thing that feels fairly fresh, even if he is just replicating Godard in a way. It probably is no coincidence that his La Chinoise featured the same two actors. To Pasolini’s benefit, he does take a very silly approach to the entire story, especially with the ending, which sort of reinforces my suspicions that it was a critique of overly talkative “art” films of the time, rather than a imitation.

Edipo re (1967)

2 03 2011

More of the same here, but also a step up from Il vangelo secondo Matteo for Pasolini. Again, an adaptation of ancient literature and again, it’s his probing verite-esque camera following a character around, and as always, there’s some sloppy ends. However, for the most part, this is one of his most accomplished films and by that I guess I mean it’s the one with the least amount of “self-indulgence” as well as the most mature. Of course, it still feels a bit amateurish at times, but that is part of Pasolini’s charm. I don’t mean this in a kitsch way, but his eagerness as a filmmaker is a strength, not a weakness.

Just as with Matteo before, Pasolini has a lot of ground to cover here in the life of Oedipus. As is the case, we get a lot of ellpises, though oddly enough they are balanced out by rather long extended sequences of just Oedipus wandering around in the desert. It’s these sequences that make Pasolini seem like a more subtle filmmaker, one whose films might not be accused of “being all over the place.” While it is a far cry from being as meticulous as something by Bela Tarr, or even Stanley Kubrick, there’s a least some hint of shots being constructed, rather than halfheartedly being pieced together. That sounds critical but again, I can’t stress enough that I actually like these elements of Pasolini’s works.

While Edipo re does look nicer than Matteo and does sort of flow in a way that not even my favorite Pasolini film (Mamma Roma, still) can, there are some problems. I get that Pasolini liked Franco Citti a lot, but he really hams it up here. Perhaps this was intentional, a decision made by either the filmmaker or the actor to underscore the whole “tragedy” element by making him lose his mind from time to time. It actually works in the film’s finale when Oedipus blinds himself, but that’s because it’s a really personal, but awkward and heartbreaking moment.

One of the most notable improvements from Matteo is Pasolini’s use of music, which is especially effective in the film’s final “modern” sequence. Where as Matteo was driven by Bach into a forced sense of “seriousness” the simple flute music here works very nicely and is a superior compliment to the more poetic, voiceover scenes. It’s a little difficult to avoid comparing this to Matteo, especially since Pasolini did make a film in-between them, but they are both trying to accomplish the same sort of tone and vibe. This is a little bit more successful in my opinion, though there’s things to like (and dislike) about both. Oh, and there’s color.

Il vangelo secondo Matteo (1964)

1 03 2011

At the very least, one has to give Pasolini credit for making a story arc as familiar and overplayed as that of Jesus be somewhat gripping and interesting, especially considering the fact that he’s dealing with his entire life. We get the immaculate conception, the crucifixion and everything in between. All the lore of the miracles, the disciples, the unintentional provocation of the world are all photographed in a rather matter of fact manner. There’s an obvious poetry in all of Pasolini’s setups, though. The camera seems to gravitate around all the actors even as others recite extended monologues, all of course coming from the source material. It’s an odd experience, that’s for sure, and like pretty much all of Pasolini’s work, seems like it shouldn’t work at all yet somehow does.

It’s a pretty good idea to at least have some sort of appreciation of Pasolini’s career (in film or elsewhere, which I guess would just be poetry) because his style is so potentially polarizing. He’s been called amateurish and shaky, but to me, that is all part of his charm. Sure, those aren’t the qualities that any filmmaker wants to be defined by, but the “messy” nature of Pasolini’s film career makes his work feel all the more personal. In this case, it is especially important since the story of Jesus seems so impersonal and I don’t mean this as a slight to any religious organizations or religious people. The story concerns the savior of mankind, but Pasolini forms a portrait of a revolutionary that just happens to be the most important one in the history of the world.

I think the single most remarkable aspect of this film is that it essentially tries to create its new language. Sure, the cinema verite approach is not, at least on paper, totally revolutionary, not even in Pasolini’s own oeuvre, but how it’s connected with content that is almost exclusively poetic and/or romantic is sort of brilliant. Sure, there really isn’t a need to focus in on the miraculous nature of Jesus’ life, but when it comes to his extended monologues, which almost bring the film to a screeching halt, those poetic touches do wonders. Sure, a lot of the movie is just people walking around and in all honesty, Pasolini was not nearly as fantastic at photographing landscapes as his fellow countrymen Antonioni, but there is an odd beauty in close-up faux-steadicam shots of people’s faces.

Perhaps there’s a little of Korine here too, which I guess could be enough to turn enough people away, but that’s sort of a fair warning. There’s these odd little sequences that are surreal and sort of grotesque, the leper is one of the first things that comes to mind, but there’s also the spontaneous moments like Jesus’ angry tirade at the expense of a village market. It’s funny, but the movie’s best moments are the ones that seem the least memorable. Somehow, I think that a good representation of the movie as a whole. Sure, you get the big stuff, but it’s Pasolini’s little touches that elevates it beyond being an adaptation.