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November 29, 2005

Street Walkers - Italian Style

Adua e le Compagne
Adua and Company
Antonio Pietrangeli - 1960
C'est La Vie PAL Region 2 DVD

Mamma Roma
Pier Paolo Pasolini - 1962
Criterion Region 1 DVD

I was totally unaware of Adua and Company until I saw it listed among Italian films at Nicheflix. The film had won the Silver Lion at Venice and according the the DVD notes was the given Italy's equivalent to the Oscar for best film of the year. This is noteworthy when one considers that 1960 may have been the best year ever with several classics released that year. Adua and Company falls in that category of films that may have seemed important at the time, but have since receeded to the status of a footnote in film history.

Certainly Antonio Pietrangeli has an interesting filmography, including apprenticeships with Visconti and Rosselini. Among the several writers who had a hand in the screenplay were Ettore Scola and sometime Fellini collaborator, Tulio Pinelli. One of Pinelli's most famous credits is for the film Adua probably aspired to, Nights of Cabiria. The film stars Simone Signoret, Sandra Milo and Emmanuelle Riva who were all at career peaks at this time. Unfortunately, no amount of talent can disguise that the film is dull and shopworn. Even the presence of the greatest Italian actor fails to liven this film up. Essentially, the brothels have shut down and a group of prostitutes attempt to open a restaurant near a small town. The various turn of events are not surprising, and the inevitable conclusion undermines any sense of tragedy one is suppose to feel.

My main reason for seeing Mamma Roma was primarily to be as complete as I can with the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini. I guess that if one is going to make a film titled Mamma Roma than the obvious star would be Anna Magnani.
I have to admit that after seeing several films, I can understand why some people would be attracted to this force of nature who seems ready to burst out of the screen. I find her outsized personality overbearing. Once again we have a film about a prostitute attempting to go straight. In this case Magnani cannot escape from her former pimp, and feels obligated to extend herself in order to provide for her uncaring son. The film was made, like Accatone, in the slums on the outskirts of Rome. Some of the elements were also used in Pasolini's 1959 novel, A Violent Life. Near the end of the film, Pasolini repeats shots of Mamma Roma's son strapped to a table in a psychiatric ward, the Christ-like imagery unmistakable.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I realize that after seeing seven of his films, I really don't like Pasolini's films. It's not that I don't recognize the artistry. Maybe this fall under the "art as Spinach" theory that you know it's good for you but you hate the taste. (Actually, I like spinach.) I realize this is totally subjective, but I feel like watching a Pasolini film is like doing homework. The one film that I like is, perhaps not coincidentally, one of his most comic films, Hawks and Sparrows. Keep in mind that the very serious Robert Bresson is one of my favorite filmmakers. Still, the import given to Pasolini by other critics and filmmakers may be enough reason for me to be familiar with his works. Anyone who says, "Truth lies not only in a dream, but in many dreams,"�should get respectful consideration.

Posted by peter at November 29, 2005 05:47 PM