September 2014, arsenal cinema

Retrospective Pier Paolo Pasolini (II)


Our comprehensive retrospective of the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini continues in October with works from the middle and end period of the director's career, who is counted among the most multi-faceted, influential and radical artists and intellectuals of the 20th century. The focus of the second part of the retrospective is on Pasolini's explorations of archaic subjects and cultures, ancient Greece and the miseries of bourgeois society (EDIPO RE, TEOREMA, PORCILE and MEDEA), also taking in his "trilogy of life" (IL DECAMERON, I RACCONTI DI CANTERBURY and IL FIORE DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE) and his final film SALÒ, produced shortly before his violent death. His two first films ACCATTONE and MAMMA ROMA are also being shown in the Martin-Gropius-Bau cinema in October, where numerous discussion events and study days are taking place to accompany the large-scale Pasolini exhibition "Pasolini Roma".

EDIPO RE (Oedipus Rex, Italy 1967, 2.10.) EDIPO REmarks the start of Pasolini's move towards ancient myths and tragedies. Following an autobiographical prologue, in which a father in the northern Italy of the 1920s sets about abandoning his hated young son, Pasolini relocates his adaptation of the Sophocles tragedy to a far-off world of archaic imagination. In a desert-like landscape, young king Oedipus (Franco Citti) is informed by the oracle of Delphi that he will kill his father and marry his mother (Silvana Mangano). Oedipus’s attempts to escape the prophecy actually make it come true;  understanding the truth of the situation, he blinds himself. In the film's epilogue, Oedipus asks himself in the Bologna of today, "Is the future already decided from the very beginning? Do we have to put up with everything?" The question echoes Pasolini's dual theme for the film: "Giving yourself over to the myth entirely whilst fighting it at the same time."

IL DECAMERON (The Decameron, Italy/France/West Germany 1971, 2. & 15.10.) Based on Boccaccio's cycle of novellas, Pasolini joins together eight episodes to form the first part of his "trilogy of life". The temperamental characters of the late medieval rural population live, love, seduce and betray one another with the same sense of sensuality, mischief and anarchy. The varied episodes are loosely connected by a framing narrative in which Pasolini plays one of Giotto's apprentices. He is given the task of designing a fresco for a monastery, yet realizes the final product will never match up to his original idea. With a sense of the drastic unusual for the time, Pasolini claims both "the right to portray sexuality" and to promote sexual liberation. 

APPUNTI PER UN'ORESTIADE AFRICANA (Notes Towards an African Orestes, Italy 1969, 13.10.) In the style of a cinematic notebook, Pasolini tries his hand at transposing Aeschylus' Orestes to modern-day Africa and visualizing the parallels between the ancient legend and the young democracies of the African continent. "Africa has arrived at the same turning point it its history as Argos in the time of Orestes: at the point of transition from an archaic civilization to democracy" (PPP). Shot in Tanzania and Uganda, the film alternates between landscapes, locations, and rehearsal footage with possible actors and discussions held with African students in Rome, augmented with Pasolini's comments on the project and remarks on his method of working.  

LE MURA DI SANA'A (The Walls of Sana'a, Italy 1973, 13.10.) This short film about the centuries-old buildings of the Yemeni capital Sanaa threatened with demolishment was produced during the shoot for IL FIORE DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE and carries the secondary title of "A Documentary in the Form of an Appeal to UNESCO". "LE MURA DI SANA'A came from the same basic need as the "trilogy of life", namely the idea of preserving certain forms of life". (PPP)

MEDEA (Italy/France/West Germany 1969, 3.10.) Bizarre landscapes shot in eastern Turkey and Syria's desert towns, prehistoric or folkloristic masks and costumes, African or Tibetan cult music and archaic rites are the key coordinates of Pasolini's reappraisal of the tragedy of Medea. It's impossible to overlook his polemical decision to side with the royal priestess (Maria Callas), who transfers the Golden Fleece to Jason and flees with him, but is banished as a witch ten years later and, in her despair at Jason's marriage to a princess, kills first her rival in love, then her children and finally herself. In Pasolini's take on the story, Medea is no longer a "barbarian" but rather the shining light of a mythical world which stands in stark contrast to the superficial, prosaic, secularized world of Jason – ancient tragedy as cultural confrontation.

I RACCONTI DI CANTERBURY (The Canterbury Tales, Italy 1972, 4. & 15.10.) For the second part of the "trilogy of life", Pasolini freely adapts Geoffrey Chaucer's medieval novellas into eight episodes about miraculous meetings, adultery, blissful sin, blundering behavior, drastic eroticism and violence. While the individual sequences of the film are initially framed by the travelling, story-telling pilgrims, Pasolini himself soon takes over responsibility for the connecting elements, appearing as the poet Chaucer and linking together the different episodes with his smile.

IL FIORE DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE (The Arabian Nights, Italy 1974, 4. & 16.10.) The joy of telling stories pervades the 15 instructive tales of love that Pasolini distills from the oriental "One Thousand and One Nights" compendium. While searching for beautiful slave girl Zummurrud, the young Nur-el-Dir gets caught up in numerous mysterious, grotesque or tragic adventures, all of which carry an erotic charge. "Of the three films of the "trilogy of life",  IL FIORE  DELLE MILLE E UNA NOTTE is the most successful. This is not just down to the narrative rhythm of spinning one yarn after another, a constructive dramatic structure that moves along from one thing to the next, but also the congruence between landscape and people". (Wolfram Schütte)

PASOLINI PROSSIMO NOSTRO (Pasolini Next to Us, Giuseppe Bertolucci, Italy 2006, 5.10.) is the reconstruction of one of the last interviews with Pasolini, conducted on the set of SALÒ. A calm, almost cheerful Pasolini allows himself to be accompanied by Gideon Bachmann and a small team on the shoot for the film. Bachmann initiates a conversation which Pasolini transforms into an attack on society as fierce as it is illuminating.

SALÒ O LE 120 GIORNATE DI SODOMA (Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom, Italy/France 1975, 5. & 17.10.) Pasolini’s last film is based on the novel of the same name by the Marquis de Sade, in which four tormentors sacrifice a group of girls and boys to their sexual perversions in a villa. Pasolini transposes the literary source material to the Fascist Republic of Salò proclaimed by Mussolini in northern Italy in 1943 following the invasion of Allied troops in the south of the country. "The film is a depiction of indescribable corruption and cruelty carried by bitterness and despair and is unparalleled in the history of cinema. The occurrences of this film, which border on what is physical and mentally bearable, are, however, not observed from an voyeuristic point of view; it is more that the film makes voyeurism itself its theme as the manifestation of dehumanization." (Ulrich Gregor)

PORCILE (Pigpen, I 1969, 14.10.) In two interwoven episodes – an archaic version and a modern one, Pasolini depicts how two young men break free of social convention and fail in macabre fashion as a result. While a settler in a volcanic landscape kills and eats a soldier and is thrown to the animals as a punishment, an industrialist's son’s erotic relations with pigs leads to disaster, which has the convenient side effect of allowing his father's capital to enter into a fusion with a former competitor. An extreme attack on consumerist society by means of two of its last taboos: cannibalism and sodomy.

TEOREMA (Theorem, Italy 1968, 14.10.) Pasolini employs a rigorous structure to depict an experiment: a young man (Terence Stamp), half demon, half angel, suddenly appears in the world of an upper class Milan family. Each of the members of the family fall victim to his charms and are radically changed by their encounters with him: the daughter (Anne Wiazemsky) falls into a mysterious catatonic state, the mother (Silvana Mangano) gives herself over to young men indiscriminately, and the father (Massimo Girotti) loses his mind. It is only the maid (Laura Betti) who is able to turn what she experiences to the good, returning to her home village and becoming a miracle healer. Pasolini's pamphlet-like poem in geometric compositions and rhythmically edited sequences trigged intense discussion upon its release.   Until SALÒ, TEOREMA remained Pasolini’s last engagement with the immutability of the bourgeois world. 

We would also like to make special reference here to the two screenings of Bernardo Bertolucci's debut filmLA COMMARE SECCA (1962), which is based on a treatment by Pasolini and is showing on 11. & 17.10. as part of the Magical History Tour . (mg)

An event in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute Berlin, Luce Cinecittà, the Centro Studi – Archivio Pier Paolo Pasolini / Cineteca Bologna, Minerva Pictures and the Martin-Gropius-Bau.