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September 3 - September 27

The Complete Pier Paolo Pasolini

Celebrated the world over as one of the central figures of the postwar Italian cinema, Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) is recognized in his native land as arguably the most important Italian artist and intellectual of the twentieth century. A gifted writer and penetrating thinker, Pasolini was already renowned as a poet, novelist, critic and screenwriter before he directed his first film, Accattone, in 1960. Pasolini remained prodigiously industrious as a writer and political activist throughout his career, even as his films brought him greater celebrity – and notoriety – during the last fifteen years of his life, often overshadowing other facets of his remarkably diverse accomplishments. An outspoken but unorthodox leftist, Pasolini attracted controversy from all sides of the political spectrum, with his often sexually explicit and willingly perverse films drawing the frequent ire of Italian censors. With his penchant for political critique and stylistic reinvention, Pasolini is in some ways the Italian counterpart to Jean-Luc Godard. Despite his obvious glee in shocking the bourgeoisie, Pasolini was also a thoughtful, even philosophical, filmmaker who bridged the gap between the post-neorealist group led by Fellini and Antonioni and the generation of Young Turks that included Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellocchio.

Pasolini’s cinema is perhaps best remembered today for its unbridled sexual imagination and its often shocking depictions of violence and unorthodox sexuality. Equally important to his oeuvre, however, is Pasolini’s adamant rejection of the contemporary world. A profound nostalgia for a pre-modern way of life is expressed across Pasolini’s films, in which the magical and the pagan supersede rationality and religion, and an anarchic, polymorphous eroticism replaces what Pasolini regarded as the sharply alienated and alienating state of modern existence. Pasolini refined an extraordinary visual style to express this worldview, favoring static frontal shots evocative of pre- and early Renaissance painting. Most of all, however, Pasolini prized a mode of radical stylistic impurity, using Bach and Vivaldi, for example, as the unlikely yet profoundly fitting soundtrack to his visions of life in the Roman slums. This daring juxtaposition of “high” and “low,” a poetic version of the Marxist dialectic, remained one of Pasolini’s most influential stylistic touches.

During his career a major source of Pasolini’s notoriety was his open homosexuality, a then-rare position that he actually had little choice in establishing. In 1949, while living and teaching as a regional poet in northeast Italy, Pasolini was outed and promptly charged with corrupting a minor, resulting in the loss of both his teaching post and his membership in the Italian Communist Party. The subsequent scandal prompted Pasolini to flee to Rome and, in retrospect, may have inadvertently hastened his rise to prominence in Italian literature. Today Pasolini’s grisly and still unsolved murder, perhaps at the hands of a teenaged hustler, has permanently linked his homosexuality to his public profile.

Pasolini announced his unique style and approach to narrative with his first three works– Accattone, Mamma Roma and The Gospel According to Matthew – which each offer a reworking of the legacy of postwar Italian neo-realism. In the mid-1960s Pasolini made an abrupt turn by attempting to create his own version of a popular cinema, casting the comic star Totò in a group of films, most notably Hawks and Sparrows, using humor and allegory to critique the changes brought about by Italy’s economic and industrial boom. The tepid response to these unusual comedies inspired Pasolini to proclaim allegiance to “unpopular cinema,” and turn to the melding of myth and scathing political critique that resulted in Oedipus Rex, Medea and Pigsty. Pasolini changed course again with his “Trilogy of Life,” an unprecedentedly accessible series of literary adaptations – The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights – until finally rejecting these films with the savage Salò, the ultimate film maudit, which he finished just days before his premature death. This retrospective covers all of the many phases of Pasolini’s filmmaking by including each of his thirteen features and his most important shorts, as well as a reconstruction of La rabbia, a film long considered lost.

Special thanks: Cineteca di Bologna; Liborio Stellino, Consul General of Italy, Boston.


Friday September 3 at 7pm
Sunday September 12 at 7pm

Teorema

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Terence Stamp, Silvana Mangano, Massimo Girotti, Anne Wiazemsky Italy 1968, 35mm, color, 98 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print courtesy of Cinecitta Luce

A radically streamlined and elliptically simple film, Teorema remains one of Pasolini’s most mysterious works. The story of a sexually magnetic stranger, played by a mesmerizing Terence Stamp, who methodically disrupts the well-ordered household of a wealthy Milanese industrialist, Teorema’s hidden tensions are brought to the surface with a shocking suddenness that remains as inexplicable as it is inevitable. Meant as a merciless savaging of the bourgeoisie, Teorema features a pair of well-known Italian actors as the subjects of its critique—Massimo Girotti and Silvana Mangano as husband and wife— as foils to the alluring stranger, who may be angel or demon, or something else entirely.

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Friday September 3 at 9pm

Oedipus Rex (Edipo Re)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, Alida Valli, Carmelo Bene
Italy 1967, 35mm, color, 104 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

Pasolini turned to myth in the search for a “primal cinema” that occupied the late stage of his tragically shortened career, choosing Oedipus Rex to delve into perhaps the most primal myth of all. Yet Pasolini explicitly rejected any Freudian trappings of the myth, offering an Oedipus less a man scarred by his forbidden intimacy with his mother than a cautionary emblem of willful ignorance. Pasolini transforms the myth into a critique of innocence, not as an absence of guilt but rather as an avoidance of knowledge. Pasolini Oedipus is not a crusader for truth brought down by fate and hubris but rather a man who blunders into his fate precisely by refusing to confront it. Pasolini’s second film set in antiquity and his first in color, Oedipus Rex explores a noticeably more elaborate art direction and costumes than his previous evocations of a vanished ancient world.

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Saturday September 4 at 7pm

The Gospel According to Matthew (Il Vangelo secondo Matteo)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Enrique Irazoqui, Margherita Caruso, Susanna Pasolini
Italy 1964, 35mm, b/w, 137 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Pasolini’s disarmingly straightforward version of the life of Christ secured his reputation as a filmmaker, rather than simply a poet dabbling in cinema. Aiming to strip away the sanctimony typical of screen adaptations of the Gospels, Pasolini sought to recover the rough poetry of the original texts, pointedly omitting the “Saint” from his title to secularize Matthew. Pasolini’s Christ emerges as much a political revolutionary as a religious figure, addressing the problems of the poor and undermining the patriarchy of the traditional family. With a visual style heavily influenced by Rossellini’s The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), the film contains a number of frontal, static shots that reveal Pasolini’s love for early Renaissance painting and point toward the radical classicism of his late films.

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Saturday September 4 at 9:30pm

Love Meetings (Comizi d’amore)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Musatti.
Italy 1964, 35mm, b/w, 92 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

The remarkable Love Meetings is nothing less than a cinema-vérité Kinsey Report – with occasional Godardian touches – on Italian sexual mores in the 1960s. Traveling across Italy, Pasolini and his camera interview people on the street, sunbathers at the beach and soccer players on the pitch about their attitudes towards marriage and divorce, homosexuality, prostitution, machismo and gender roles. While a notable consensus agrees that things are changing it remains less clear what, if anything, these changes mean. In one of his few essays on cinema, Michel Foucault wrote admiringly of the film’s ability to capture the complex ambiguity of reactions to the so-called “sexual revolution.”

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Sunday September 5 at 7pm

Medea

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Maria Callas, Laurent Terzieff, Massimo Girotti
Italy 1969, 35mm, color, 110 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

In the figure of Medea, the sorceress seduced and abandoned by the adventurer Jason, Pasolini saw an allegorical emblem, both for the defeat of the irrational by the rational and for the colonization of the ancient world by an expansionist West. In a series of nearly wordless sequences, Pasolini brilliantly conjures the primal realm of magic and sacrifice which Medea naively leaves to follow Jason, only to realize that she has become a steppingstone for his worldly ambitions in a coldly rational milieu of political power plays. Pasolini drew his inspiration for his second adaptation of a Greek myth, not from the canonical theatrical dramatization of Medea, but from anthropological accounts of the history of religion. In her only dramatic onscreen appearance, the opera star Maria Callas is riveting in the title role.

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Monday September 6 at 7pm

The Walls of Sana’a (Le mura di Sana)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Italy 1971, 35mm, color, 13 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

Pasolini’s rarely screened documentary short explores the incredible architecture of the almost 3,000 year old Yemenese city of Sana’a. With its direct appeal to the spectator to help save these fragile structures, The Walls of Sana’a is offers a moving testimony to Pasolini’s deep attachment to the ancient world.

Notes for an African Orestes (Appunti per un’Orestiade africana)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Italy 1970, 35mm, color, 63 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

While shooting Medea, a film about the subjugation of the ancient world to an alienating modernity, Pasolini developed the idea to make a companion piece about another Greek myth – the story of Orestes. This story would end more happily, with the archaic making way for a different kind of modernity, built not on exploitation but on communalism. Encouraged by emerging socialist governments in post-colonial Africa, Pasolini hoped to shoot his film there, and so he went to Uganda and Tanzania to scout for locations and actors. That footage became the basis for this film, with Pasolini explaining his ideas on the soundtrack. A perfect example of leftist intellectual auto-critique, the film climaxes with Pasolini discussing his plans with a group of African students in Rome. The discussion hovers somewhere between tragedy and farce as one by one, the students calmly and kindly offer numerous reasonable objections to Pasolini’s idea, all of which he seems to take in stride. The Oresteia project was never made. Little-seen and little-discussed, the film is essential viewing for understanding Pasolini’s political thinking and his attachment to myth.

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Friday September 10 at 7pm

Accattone

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Franco Citti, Franca Pasut, Silvana Corsini
Italy 1961, 35mm, b/w, 116 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Pasolini’s magnificent directorial debut, a chronicle of the life of a petty criminal and pimp, reveals the young director’s indebtedness to postwar Italian neo-realism with its episodic narrative, location shooting on city streets and use of nonprofessional actors. Much remarked at the time was Pasolini’s then-startling use of stately music by Bach on the soundtrack to accompany contemporary urban squalor and the static frontal shots that often evoke early Renaissance painting and immediately stamp Accattone with Pasolini’s distinctive style. In his first screen appearance, Franco Citti as the pimp establishes himself as the most important member of Pasolini’s ensemble of actors.

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Friday September 10 at 9:15pm

Pigsty (Porcile)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Jean-Pierre Léaud, Pierre Clementi, Anne Wiazemsky
Italy 1969, 35mm, color, 98 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

In both Theorem and Pigsty, Pasolini seeks to synthesize the mythic strain that surfaced in Oedipus Rex with the stridently political filmmaking emerging in Europe in the second half of the 1960s and epitomized by Godard’s film. In a nod to the French director, Pasolini reunites the lead couple from La Chinoise, Jean-Pierre Léaud and Anne Wiazemsky, who appear in one of Pigsty’s two parallel plots, this one set in the present, with Léaud as the son of a wealthy businessman whose lack of interest in his fiancée betrays an unorthodox sexual predilection. The other story takes place in an unspecified prehistoric past, where a brutish barbarian scrounges for food in an archaic landscape ravaged by primitive warfare. Pigsty acts as a crucial missing link between the critique of Theorem and the darker depictions of savagery to come.

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Please Note: Tonight’s screening includes only the first part directed by Pasolini; the running time is 53 minutes.  We will not screen the second part directed by Giovanni Guareschi but instead offer La Ricotta, which will immediately follow The Rage of Pasolini.
Saturday September 11 at 7pm

The Rage of Pasolini (La Rabbia di Pasolini)

Directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Italy 1963/2008, 35mm, b/w and color, 53 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

In 1962, Pasolini was invited by an Italian newsreel producer to create a feature-length film essay from his company’s library of footage. Inspired by diverse wealth of imagery, Pasolini set out to make a film as “a show of indignation against the unreality of the bourgeois world.” Assembling images from the Soviet bloc and various anti-colonial movements as complement and contrast to the newsreel footage, Pasolini crafted a remarkable tour de force of politically trenchant commentary on the modern world, climaxing in a moving meditation on the death of Marilyn Monroe. Fearing controversy and box-office failure, the producer ordered Pasolini to cut the original version to less than an hour and then promptly added a right-wing counterpart by the filmmaker Giovanni Guareschi, packaging the two parts as one film. Disowned by Pasolini, this version was indeed a failure. Although Pasolini’s original version remains lost, an ambitious reconstruction was recently completed by Giuseppe Bertolucci and the Cineteca di Bologna using the shot list and a dialogue transcript from the first version, as well as Pasolini’s notes on music for the film.

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Saturday September 11 at 9pm

The Decameron (Il Decameron)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Franco Citti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ninetto Davoli
Italy 1971, 35mm, color, 110 min. Italian with English subtitles

In an attempt to turn away from the more experimental direction of his late 1960s work and create a “popular cinema,” Pasolini turned to the beloved collection of alternately bawdy and tender tales of star-crossed lovers, randy nuns and pedophile pickpockets written by Boccaccio in the fourteenth-century. The result is one of the director’s most accessible films, filled with early Renaissance imagery, plentiful nudity and earthy eroticism. While Boccaccio used a range of different narrators to tell each story of romantic attachments and ribald misadventures, Pasolini replaces this framing device with a series of brief interludes featuring himself as a Giottoesque painter. To Pasolini’s dismay, the film’s international popularity inspired a number of soft-core imitations.

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Please note: Seeking Locations in Palestine is in Italian with French subtitles. There are currently no English subtitled prints available.
Monday September 13 at 7pm

La Ricotta

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Orson Welles, Mario Cipriani, Laura Betti
Italy 1963, 35mm, b/w and color, 35 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Pasolini Foundation

For his contribution to the omnibus film RoGoPaG – comprised of episodes by himself, Rossellini, Godard and Ugo Gregoretti – Pasolini fashioned an ingenious fable that is both a satire on filmmaking and a tribute to Italian Mannerist painting. Although Orson Welles stars as a director filming the crucifixion, the real protagonist is an unassuming middle-aged man working as an extra to feed his family. The extraordinary meeting of three worlds—high art, moviemaking and all-too-real poverty—leads to a collision with tragicomic consequences, a “collage,” as Pasolini called it, that allows him to effectively critique the distance between ethics and aesthetics.

Seeking Locations in Palestine for the Film “The Gospel According to Matthew” (Sopralluoghi in Palestina per il film “Il Vangelo secondo Matteo”)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Italy 1965, 35mm, b/w, 52 min. Italian with French subtitles

Pasolini had originally planned to shoot The Gospel According to Matthew in the approximate locations referred to in the Bible: Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem. With this in mind he visited the area—including other parts of Israel, Jordan and Syria—with a newsreel photographer, filming both the landscape and its inhabitants. Edited by The Gospel’s producer for potential funders and distributors, Pasolini added a semi-improvised commentary as the only soundtrack to his footage, including his musings on Jesus and his teachings and on the difficulty of finding suitable locations for his project, while avoiding the subject of Israel and Palestine. An evocative behind-the-scenes glimpse into Pasolini’s creative project, the film serves as testimony to his idiosyncratic views of Jesus as a historical figure and his distinctions between the ancient and modern worlds.

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Sunday September 19 at 7pm

Arabian Nights (Il fiore delle mille e una notte)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Franco Merli, Ines Pellegrini, Tessa Bouché, Ninetto Davoli
Italy 1974, 35mm, color, 129 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from MGM

In his version of the Middle and Near Eastern tales called the Arabian Nights, Pasolini revels in the sheer joy of storytelling, elaborately intertwining a series of meandering episodes that lend the film a rich narrative complexity. Eliminating the storyteller Scheherazade, Pasolini instead embeds the nested stories within a framing narrative about a poor young man searching for the escaped slave girl who is his lost love. Like The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales, the film abounds in nudity and scenes of sexuality, although cast now in a far sunnier mood than those two films, perhaps an expression of Pasolini’s declaration to have “liberated” himself by shooting for the first time in distant non-European disparate locales, from Ethiopia to Nepal, and using a cast combining Pasolini regulars with nonprofessional actors found on location.

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Monday September 20 at 7pm

Hawks and Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini)

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi
Italy 1966, 35mm, b/w, 86 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Pasolini regarded il Boom – the massive economic and industrial development of postwar Italy and the wave of rapid social change that followed – as a tragic catastrophe, a sweeping away of Italy’s last vestiges of pre-modern culture by replacing them with the depredations of consumer capitalism. Alternately caustic and gently comic, this melancholy film offers a parable of those changes, tracing the odyssey of a father and son through a landscape of degradation and exploitation as they follow a talking crow that delivers a Marxist critique of the situation. A homage to silent comedy, Hawks and Sparrows proved to be Pasolini’s parting shot at contemporary Italy before he turned to his cycle of mythic films.

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Friday September 24 at 7pm
Monday September 27 at 7pm

Mamma Roma

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofalo, Silvana Corsini
Italy 1962, 35mm, b/w, 105 min. Italian with English subtitles
New print from the Harvard Film Archive Collection

Inspired by his work on the screenplay for The Nights of Cabiria, Fellini’s spirited fable about a Chaplinesque prostitute, Pasolini offered his own portrait of a Roman streetwalker, replacing Fellini’s whimsy with a clear-eyed and unflinching look at the lives of the urban poor. In one of her signature roles, the indomitable Anna Magnani captures the stubborn pride and vulnerability of the title character, a woman fiercely protective of her son, who is himself a classic version of the Pasolinian ragazzo, living large on the streets and drifting inevitably toward a life of crime. Pasolini’s juxtaposition of the Fascist-era housing block that is home to mother and son against the nearby ruins of an ancient aqueduct reveals his lifelong attraction to the archaic and his lasting distrust of the modern.

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Friday September 24 at 9pm

The Canterbury Tales

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Franco Citti, Laura Betti, Ninetto Davoli, Josephine Chaplin
Italy 1972, 35mm, color, 110 min.
Print from MGM

For his follow-up to The Decameron, Pasolini selected Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the other great fourteenth century collection of stories. If the world of Pasolini’s Decameron is that of the dawning of the Renaissance, the world here is decidedly medieval, with a concomitant emphasis on the vulgar and the grotesque. Although the “Trilogy of Life” was conceived as a celebration of the body, this middle piece marks a palpably darkening mood. Returning to the episodic structure so central to Pasolini’s cinema, the film recounts a series of amorous misadventures with a sharp emphasis placed more on sex than on love, lust or desire. Climaxing with a wildly scatological vision of Hell, The Canterbury Tales is propelled by notably cruel humor, a violence more pointed than The Decameron and an even more raw sexuality.

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Sunday September 26 at 7pm

Salo

Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
With Paolo Bonicelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Franco Merli
Italy 1975, 35mm, color, 116 min. Italian with English subtitles
Print from MGM

Disillusioned by the sexual revolution, which he felt had only entrenched sexuality in consumerism and bourgeois rationalism, Pasolini disowned his “Trilogy of Life,” the three early 1970s films intended as erotic celebrations of the body, and responded with his most notorious and final film, Salò. Set in northern Italy during the last days of Mussolini’s reign, the film liberally adapts Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, using the tale of amoral libertines who kidnap young victims for a sacrificial orgy to launch a ruthless and wide-ranging attack on modernity as a whole. Setting up equivalences between Sadean sexual license, Italian fascism and consumerist alienation, Salò delivers a trenchant political allegory that tends to be overshadowed by its explicit nudity and images of sexual sadism. The film’s ultimately extreme violence and deviant sexuality have earned it the reputation as arguably the first “artsploitation” movies, a precursor to the likes of Funny Games (1997, 2007) and Irreversible (2002).

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