Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy, 1969, 98 mins, in Italian with optional subtitles
Cast: Pierre Clémenti, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Anne Wiazemsky, Alberto Lionello, Ugo Tognazzi, Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli
Review by Colin Dibben
Superb, high-definition transfer of one of the great punk-Marxist provocateur Pasolini’s less famous works, that’s half jaw-droppingly beautiful and half dull as only clumsy satire can be. However, how can you say no to a film that contains the line ‘I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy’?
This is a very strange film. There are two stories spliced together but it’s very hard to see any substantial connection between them, unless you want to drone on about cannibal capitalism; and to succumb to that temptation would be to do a disservice to writer-director Pasolini, as he’s theoretically more nuanced and engaged than that. One of the stories introduces us to Julian (Léaud) and Ida (Wiazemsky). They talk a lot about love and radical politics. They do very little, beyond talking to camera. Their faces and bodies are framed in a simple, static monumental way. Things get weirder when Julian goes into a coma. We see him in bed and we see his industrialist father (Lionello) talking to an ex-Nazi competitor (Tognazzi). The competitor reveals, in one of several long, drawn-out narrated tales that are scattered through this story, that Julian is a pig fucker. The framing stays monumental and static and the characters carry on talking. All they do is talk. This story is probably a satire on capitalism and its discontents – perhaps even a meta-satire as the father is himself always referring to leftwing satirists – but it’s not funny and I’m not convinced it’s really clever either. Apparently, at the time of production, Pasolini was concerned with foreign, especially German, investment intoItaly’s massive industrialization. This is referred to at the beginning of the film.
The other story is deeply weird, beautiful and disturbing. Shot in haunting volcanic landscapes around Mount Etnain Sicily, it’s the almost wordless story of two medieval cannibals (Clémenti and Citti) who waylay, kill and eat travelers through their blasted, otherworldly landscape. They don’t talk, until the end when Clémenti sums himself up with the line mentioned above. They just ‘do’ – and eventually have unpleasant things done to them. It’s not at all graphic, nor is there any real attempt to historically situate the events, or give them more than a practical, ritualistic credibility. Pasolini had made a series of films concerned with myth (Oedipus Rex, Theorem, Medea – all of them superb) and this half of the film fits perfectly with that wider project. It really looks astonishing – a perfect mix of beautiful, fluid establishing shots of the incredibly strange tufa landscape that’s pitted with volcanic flues; and gritty, handheld close ups.
My intuition is that the two halves of the film were initially separate projects – they certainly feel that way, with little organic connection between them. So, prepare to marvel at half of this film. And find a way to say ‘I killed my father. I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy’ to at least one person tomorrow.