One of the most exciting, stimulating, and fulfilling aspects of film appreciation lies in the journey of discovery it often entails. This journey encompasses a variety of experiences, from the personal — the anxious thrill of taking a chance on an unfamiliar film on the strength of its cover art, or a long-desired Holy Grail finally appearing within reach — to the communal; that familiar, transportive act of sitting in a packed theater and immersing ourselves, together, in another place and time. Film industry trends might shift, and formats might fade into obsolescence as the ways to watch movies continue to evolve and expand, but the desire and curiosity of movie obsessives never wavers.
From the time I fell in love with film in my adolescence, I’ve been on a tireless search for new (or new to me) filmmakers, movies, and perspectives on the screen. To that end, I’m embarking on a monthly discussion series delving into a vast body of work that, until relatively recently, had not been widely available on home video: the films of director, poet, journalist, and philosopher, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Joining me on this daunting (and so far, fun) endeavor is Doug Tilley, co-host of No Budget Nightmares and Eric Roberts Is the Fucking Man podcasts, and a great friend of Cinepunx.
Together, we’ll be exploring Pasolini’s filmography in chronological order, taking occasional detours through his staggeringly extensive artistic efforts outside of film, as well as the work of his collaborators and other related media.
To kick things off, we’re venturing back to the start of Pasolini’s film career with a look at his 1961 feature film debut, Accattone.
Photo by Angelo Novi, 1969.
Adrianna Gober: When and how did you first become aware of Pasolini?
Doug Tilley: A lot of my film love came from the 1990s, and if you were a fan of outsider or cult cinema at that time period, your familiarity with Pasolini was likely through Salò.
That’s a film that, at the time I became first aware of it, it was because of its extremity and because it was so difficult to find. Hard to believe that now you can find a copy of it on the Criterion Collection. It’s the kind of movie that was both considered the extreme level of extreme, though also appreciated by certain groups, but I think a lot of people in my circle gravitated towards it because of the disgust factor.
It took me a long time to even want to see more of Pasolini’s work, and I then looked towards his Trilogy of Life. Which, honestly, Salò and the Trilogy of Life are almost my entire experience with his filmography outside of a film here or there. His Trilogy of Life — which are so different from what I was expecting from my initial impression; they’re very pro-sex, and very colorful and interesting and very much an examination of literature, and really the beginnings of literature, which makes sense since he comes from a very literary background.
He’s a character and a person I’ve always been very curious about. And a couple of years ago, I saw Abel Ferrara’s film Pasolini at the Toronto International Film Festival, and I realized while watching it that my context of him as a person was very simplistic. I knew he was homosexual, I knew he was murdered, I knew he was very controversial, but I didn’t really have enough background on him as a person to either appreciate his breadth of work or appreciate that film. I found it a little difficult on a number of levels, including the fact that Willem Dafoe played Pasolini. It’s hard to separate him as an actor, especially him not being Italian, from that real-life person. It made me very curious to delve into this man’s career.
I think in the West, I think he might be — I’m hesitant to use the word “underappreciated,” because maybe in certain circles that’s not the case, but I think that because his films weren’t available widely until digital formats and DVD —- some of his films weren’t available at all until DVD format — that maybe it’s a good opportunity now that his movies are more widely available to really take an examination from a Western perspective, from soup to nuts so to speak, and see everything he has to offer.
I’m excited about it, and I’m not going into it with the perspective that I’m necessarily going to understand or even love all of his work, but I’m extremely curious about it which is just as exciting to me.
AG: For sure. To add to that, I think exploring his body of work is also worthwhile because it’s an interesting time capsule of Italian, working class life at the point in time his films were made. So, just from a sociological standpoint, there’s a lot to gain from watching these films.
DT: Particularly starting at the point we’re starting with, because I realized while watching Accattone that I had no context for that time period in Italy.
AG: I guess my relationship to Pasolini kind of follows a similar trajectory as yours. The first time I ever became aware of him, it was because I read about Salò on a message board online when I was 14, with people hyping up the film as “this really fucked up movie, man!” — if you like extreme cinema, you have to watch Salò. So, I scoured torrent sites to find it, and I guess it says a lot about me and the kind of person I was at that point in time, but when I saw it, I was disappointed by it. I thought it was boring and not extreme enough. I wasn’t mature enough to appreciate the socio-political context behind it, or what he was doing with that film and the semiotics of it at all. And then I kind of forgot about him, until, it’s interesting — his name kept popping up in the music I listened to. First, Scott Walker’s “Farmer in the City (Remembering Pasolini)” on Tilt, which I loved in high school and still do. Second, there’s a Morrissey song called “You Have Killed Me” where he references Accattone and Anna Magnani, and in interviews during that time period, around 2006, Morrissey referenced Pasolini a lot — The Gospel According to St. Matthew and a number of his other films — and cited Pasolini as an influence on Ringleader of the Tormentors, so that kind of piqued my interest. Around the same time, I was listening to a lot of Coil, and they have a song on their album Horse Rotorvator called “Ostia (The Death of Pasolini),” which memorializes Pasolini and deals very directly with the circumstances of his death. I was very moved by this song and I thought: wow, there clearly is something more to this man and his work that I wasn’t able to glean from just watching Salò, which made me want to understand him more.
This is when I went to his Trilogy of Life, and I was completely mesmerized and blown away by these films. From that point, I think I saw Teorema with Terrence Stamp and The Gospel According to St. Matthew. So, he’s been a figure I’ve been very fascinated by, but whose work I’m still relatively ignorant about; I haven’t read his novels or poetry, I haven’t extensively read or watched many interviews with him, but I did quickly become aware that he was a very intelligent person, very passionate about his political beliefs and activism, which may have had something to do with his murder — I think that’s still a contested issue. But that’s a huge part of why I want to do this project: I want to become more familiar with his work because I’m simply curious about it, and also because he’s clearly had such an impact on other areas of arts and culture.
DT: Absolutely. It’s interesting to think of the time period. In the early ’60s, when Accattone was made, Pasolini was already a very public figure because of his poetry and his essay writing. It’s hard to think of a time period — and maybe it’s just from the perspective of 2018, where someone who’s an intellectual, and poet, and ultra left-wing Marxist and homosexual is unlikely to have that public profile — that they could have a station in society where they’re this provocateur, that people know who this person is. Simply because you think filmmaking is the first step a lot of these people take, but he didn’t even approach filmmaking as an art form until he was almost 40!
Photo: Franco Vitale, 1967.
DT: I mean, he basically had an entire career leading up to it, which happened to inform that work as well, and his interest in these kind of sub-proletariat type people of the street, that he had such an interest in that he was actually contributing to screenplays before this, simply because he had so much knowledge of that — or maybe so much interest in that, I should say — it certainly is kind of what led directly to this film that we’re going to talk about.
But I guess there’s been a lot of suggestion that his novels before this, which also dealt with a similar sub group of people on the outskirts of Rome who were living in sub-working class environments, really informed Accattone and the kind of content he wanted to put into that movie.
AG: I guess I’m just thinking from the standpoint of a creative person, as a musician, but at that point I think he simply thought he said all he needed to say, or that he could say, in the medium of the novel and he wanted to try his hand at filmmaking.
DT: Yeah. He’s such a kind of complex figure because he’s so contradictory in a lot of ways. Particularly because — and this is something I read about leading up to this, so it certainly isn’t my original idea — he was a Marxist, and some of his theories on his approach to work were pretty extreme, and in some ways they actually kind of reflect my own, but he still was a director running a set where people had to labor for him, and how contradictory that was even in context.
AG: Yeah, definitely, and his choice of subject matter was definitely informed by his politics as well. He saw the people who lived on the margins of society as being more noble than the people who participated in, I guess, materialist culture, and I think that plays a huge part in Accattone and how the subject matter is approached.
DT: Also, religion is on the margins of Accattone from almost the first frame. Pasolini, I believe, was an atheist, and kind of notably an atheist, considering not only the religious content of a lot of his movies, but the fact that his breakthrough movie was a translation of the Bible [1964’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew]. It’s interesting to see that again in the context of the characters of this movie.
This is very much a movie that’s stumbling towards the idea of redemption. It’s always something that’s surrounding the lead character of Accattone, and certainly the ending of the movie. It follows a brief dream sequence which is very much about death, very much about what his potential for redemption is and then his actual death itself. I know that’s a spoiler at this point, but it’s kind of a necessary thing for us to end up talking about.
As someone who is fairly disconnected from religion myself, and particularly Catholicism, that Catholicism as a whole informs not just Pasolini’s work, but pretty much all the Italian filmmakers of this time period for a number of very obvious reasons — again, it’s part of that contextualizing which I think is really important, as we move forward in his work.
It seems as his work continues, it becomes a little more palatable and mainstream. I say that, and then his last film is the least palatable and mainstream of all, but it’s interesting that it did seem like, as you were alluding to before, he came as far as he could go with the art form that he was involved in, and maybe he had an inkling to reach a wider mass audience. And again, back to the contradictory nature that he even turned on that himself and went right from the Trilogy of Life to that extreme content right before his death. It really does make you think: what would he have gone on to do? I mean, he was a comparatively young man when he was murdered, he had so much potential work to do. But then again, the Italian film industry kind of fell apart in the 1980s, so maybe he might not have had a lot of opportunities to do that work.
AG: Well, I guess he could have gotten into television. I think you’re onto something about him wanting to cast a wider net of influence, and of course film was a good way to do that, and television became the logical next step.
DT: Especially during this time period, because Italian neo-realism had just broken out a few years prior, and all the Italian directors had gotten worldwide acclaim because of film festivals, and this was the kind of thing that, even aside from television at that time period, where you could subtitle a movie like Accattone and get it viewed around the world, and kind of raise your profile using that. It’s hard to believe his filmmaking career only encapsulated fifteen years.
AG: Yet he was incredibly prolific.
DT: Absolutely. Which is good for us. [laughs]
AG: [laughs] We won’t be running out of material anytime soon!
DT: The interesting thing is that, if you were to just look at his filmography, even aside from his feature-length stuff, he was involved with portmanteaus, documentaries — he has a lot of varied work out there.
DT: So, did you have any specific knowledge of Accattone outside of the Morrissey song before watching it?
AG: No, just very general things. I knew it dealt with class struggle and street crime, but I didn’t really know anything in terms of plot specifics or what to expect beyond those superficial things.
Watching Accattone for this project was actually my second time seeing the movie, and as I was watching it, I remembered why it had been so long since the first time I’d seen it, which is that it really is an emotionally trying film. Which I don’t necessarily mind — to quote [Cinepunx editor] Liam, “I love movies that don’t love me back.” But as I was watching, I definitely thought, “Damn, this is a really bleak movie.”
DT: “Bleak” is a good word to describe this movie, definitely. I had heard of Accattone in the context of his filmography, but again, my expectations were limited and only framed by his later work, which sometimes — even though there were naturalistic aspects to it — could get kind of fantastical and visually all over the place, in a good way. But this is…I hesitate to say documentary-like, but its filmmaking style sort of is, even if the content is never meant to be very naturalistic.
We’re not supposed to think that this is necessarily reflective of a day-to-day life of the characters that we’re seeing in a real-life scenario, and it even does take that flight of fancy aspect by having a dream sequence at the end, but it’s certainly a little more rough around the edges than the films I’ve seen from him from later in his career.
AG: It’s interesting that you would say that because, as I was watching it, I remember it being a lot more of a straightforward, neo-realist movie, but there’s a lot more of the sort of impressionistic, lyrical storytelling and composition that characterizes a lot of his later movies. There are a lot of characteristics that became more emergent in his later films that I see the framework for here. There’s a roughness to it, visually, but it’s also expressive — especially in the way it uses close-ups to emphasize emotionality, which lends itself to the way the film empathizes with the characters and the way it captures the melancholic beauty and the poetry of these marginalized people just living their lives.
DT: Absolutely. I was reading up on the fact that Bernardo Bertolucci was the assistant director on Accattone, and his feelings about Pasolini and his skill at making this movie are kind of quite extraordinary. He really does think of Pasolini as basically creating a new language of film when making this, simply because his background and his inspirations, as opposed to being cinematic, tended to be from different art forms, whether it be poetry, literature or whatever.
I don’t think if you were to come to this movie without any other context about who Pasolini was as an artist that you would be too confused. It’s easy to follow along with, it’s very episodic, you get a very clear sense of who the main characters are. Most of the action is pretty clearly spelled out as you’re watching. It’s not so impressionistic that you lose the plot as you go along, but it does feel different from the other movies of this time period that I’ve seen. Whether that’s because of Pasolini’s lack of skill or lack of polish, simply because it was his first film, or if it’s because as Bertolucci thought: that his influences and the kind of things he was interested in and was trying to present on screen were something a little bit different.
You know, they say that Fellini was going to produce this movie initially, particularly because Pasolini had worked on some scripts with Fellini previous to this.
AG: Yeah, La Dolce Vida was one of them.
DT: And Nights of Cabiria as well. He had Pasolini film two or three scenes [for Accattone] to show either his skill level or his perspective on what the material might look like, but once he saw them, Fellini lost all interest and decided not to produce at all. [laughs]
I’m curious what his thoughts on the final product would have been. It certainly isn’t a very Fellini-esque movie, at least from my experience. But now that we’re talking about Accattone in a little bit more detail, now that you’ve seen for another time more recently, what are your thoughts on the movie generally?
AG: I enjoyed it — though, like I said, it really packs an emotional wallop. One thing that really struck me this time around is — man, the women are really treated like shit in this movie.
DT: Oh, yes they are. I think Pasolini wears his misogyny on his sleeve sometimes.
AG: I hesitate to say he’s a misogynist because of how the characters in this movie behave. It’s definitely rough at times, and the narrative does favor the male characters and the male experience, but it never seems like the movie is reveling in or apologizing for the sexism and cruelty of those characters; it’s merely presented as a fact of life for these people in that place and time. It fits with the overall ambiguity that pervades the film, and it does create an uncomfortable tension.
There’s a moment in this movie I find very striking. It’s after Accattone has a very public fight with his brother-in-law and they’re rolling around on the ground; the moment right after that where he’s walking out of the village, away from the crowd of people gawking and shouting and there’s this very majestic swelling of strings, and he looks so completely resigned to believing he’s as worthless as everyone says he is. It’s such a powerful and masterfully crafted moment. That’s really what I mean about the movie being impressionistic: there are so many moments in this movie that could be self-contained — you could remove them from the film and they would still have such tremendous emotional resonance and clearly defined feeling without that added context.
DT: Yeah, that’s a very heavy moment. It’s interesting because the movie does not necessarily ask us to sympathize with Accattone as a character.
AG: No, but it doesn’t pass judgement.
DT: It doesn’t pass judgement, that’s right. In that scene, he is basically hitting his lowest point; people are yelling “Pimp!” at him as he’s being rejected after this violent incident, Bach is playing on the soundtrack. It’s a very obviously, specifically-crafted moment, but it’s also very heavy. And it’s also that balancing point of the movie where it’s taking it into a different direction with Accattone’s relationship with his new beau, let’s say, and him preparing her for being a prostitute.
Accattone as a character is a real piece of shit for a lot of the movie. He’s a pimp, he’s a wanna-be thief, he has no interest in doing “legitimate work.” It’s just not something he’s suited for as a human being, it seems. His one attempt at it he rejects very quickly. It’s hard not to — I don’t know if “sympathize” is the right word — it’s hard not to feel like he could be better, or that he has the potential to be better. There are some single moments of humanity in him, particularly in his first conversation with Stella, which has a warmth to it.
Again, there’s the potential that he’s just trying to butter her up, either to develop a relationship with him, or a working relationship. There are hints that he has this charisma, there’s a reason that he has this circle of friends, but every time it seems we can get a little closer to this guy, he’ll do something like when he tries to trick all of his friends — betray his friends — out of their spaghetti meal when they’re all basically starving. He’ll do these horrible things and it makes you question, is this person redeemable? Then he has those final moments at the end of the movie where it’s left open: maybe this was his only path, maybe there weren’t a lot of options for a person like him, but the suggestion is that even from what we see, that’s just the end part of a whole life that has been similarly flawed in regards to his actions.
AG: Yeah. Since you brought up the “spaghetti dinner incident,” something I find interesting about this movie is that many of the interactions between Accattone and the other neighborhood guys — and the interactions between characters in general — are very cruel. The characters are very cruel to one another. Instead of finding solidarity in their shared struggle, they wind up eating each other alive. It’s a sad, self-perpetuating cycle of oppression within a greater system of economic and institutional oppression.
On another level, it speaks to the self-destructive parts of all of us as well. I don’t know anyone who is exactly like Accattone, but I’ve known plenty of people who I’ve watched sabotage themselves, and there’s so many instances in this film where Accattone could have made changes in his life, but didn’t for various reasons — some of them beyond his control, some just plain bad decision-making.
DT: Yes, absolutely. He’s a very conflicting and conflicted character. One of the reasons I never quite rejected him entirely or got so disgusted I couldn’t even care about his redemption, is the performance of Franco Citti — who I actually knew previously from his appearances in The Godfather and The Godfather III.
He was the brother of one of Pasolini’s collaborators, and he apparently had a lot of life experience with similar groups and similar people, but his face is so distinctive. Pasolini would work with him in a number of different movies after this, but here, it seems like — and that’s another thing about Pasolini’s style, he lingers on these faces. At the very beginning of the movie, I felt at first, “oh, there’s so many characters, am I going to be able to tell them apart — -different Italian guys who generally look the same. But [the camera] lingers so much on faces that the main characters are easy to tell apart after a while because you’re so familiar with the geography of their faces and bodies. Particularly this lead performance — even though, again, as with most Italian movies of this time period, it’s all post-dubbed —- and in the case of Citti, I don’t even think it’s his own voice, even though a lot of the supporting actors do use their own voices. He’s dubbed by someone else in this movie, but there’s no denying that performance. It seems very real, very passionate — that’s probably the thing I’m going to take away most from this movie. If I see him in anything else, it’s always going to be, “Oh, that’s Accattone” — that’s who he is.
AG: I think the frequent, lingering shots of the faces are a clever shortcut to engendering identification. That’s a huge part of why Accattone remains a compelling, if not exactly sympathetic character; amid all of his terrible behavior, the camera keeps emphasizing his raw humanity.
DT: Absolutely! There’s only a couple of point-of-view shots in the entire movie — and in fact, two of the most memorable sequences have Accattone basically harassing a woman, as he often does, and walking towards the camera. Just a slow, very lengthy shot. It’s actually mirrored, first with his ex-wife where he’s harassing her for money and she knows exactly what he’s up to, and later on with Stella there’s a very similar shot, where they’re having a length conversation and he’s being a jerk because that’s what he often is.
Speaking of that point-of-view, one of my favorite scenes of the movie is, at the beginning of the movie, when he’s basically relying on the work of a prostitute named Maddalena and she gets arrested, and there’s a series of shots where they’re bringing in men for her to identify as the thugs who have beaten her, and those shots where when these men come in in groups of threes and it slowly pans across their faces — I mean, this is a movie that is so interested in those faces. There’s a certain kind of look of the people in this movie. You can tell Pasolini has a very specific idea of the kind of people who are inhabiting these areas.
AG: Can we talk about that scene where she’s assaulted by the Neapolitans? Because I found that scene really eerie — and this is totally a coincidence — but it has so many weird similarities to what would eventually happen to Pasolini.
DT: No kidding. In the movie Pasolini, when his death is eventually shown in that movie, I think it’s an intentional echoing of [that scene].
AG: Ah, that’s interesting. I mean, it doesn’t surprise me because I don’t know how anyone who knows anything about Pasolini could watch that scene in Accattone and not make that connection. But yeah, I found it really unsettling — the cruelty and injustice of what happens to Maddalena, first of all, for something she had nothing to do with, but also how it’s strangely portentous of its author’s fate.
DT: I found it confusing watching it the first time. So, what happens in the context of the movie is that a pimp that Accattone is familiar with, he’s gone to prison. He was basically ratted on by his wife, who now lives with Accattone. So, some gangsters from Naples come to visit Accattone to get revenge for what’s happened, but they can’t hurt that pimp’s wife, because she has a whole bunch of children there, and they can’t really hurt Accattone because he didn’t really do anything wrong, but they have to do something, so they instead beat up his prostitute — I hate using that language, but it is contextually what they used — as a way to do something.
AG: It sends a message.
DT: And it still hurts Accattone because that’s his entire livelihood. He doesn’t even have a way to feed himself without her. When it first happens, I had difficulty understanding why they were targeting her. I think the mindset of the kind of gangsterism on display is not something I knew enough about to know exactly how they meant to hurt him, but when you see the rest of the movie play out, it makes a little bit more sense. And on a second viewing, it’s much more clear.
You mentioned how women were presented in this movie earlier. It is something that is very stark to watch, it’s very much mother/whore on display here and there’s really nothing in between. It kind of seems like Pasolini is not necessarily very interested in women. I don’t mean just because of his own sexuality, but just in the context of the story he’s trying to tell, and that kind of plays into….I wonder if I wasn’t already aware of Pasolini’s homosexuality, whether I would notice the homoerotic subtext in a lot of the scenes in this movie. Particularly the moment you mentioned where he fights with his brother-in-law. With the music playing in the background, and they’re locked in this sort of embrace for a lengthy period of time. Again, there’s that gaze on display that I’m not sure you can’t really separate Pasolini as a man from his work because they’re so clearly entangled.
AG: Much like the sweaty bodies of those two actors.
DT: [laughs] Right? And in the first sequence as well, where Accattone is diving off the bridge and there’s a beach full of shirtless men all watching him. It’s difficult not to conflate that with the sexuality of the director. And again, Pasolini was not only openly homosexual, but also — particularly because it led to his death — it’s one of those things that sort of defined his work. Especially because sexuality becomes an increasingly important part of that work going forward.
AG: Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that there’s a certain underlying homoerotic sensibility to this film informed by Pasolini’s preoccupation with street boys and ruffians, which comes to the fore in how the gaze of the film is constructed, with so much emphasis on male faces and flesh. There’s also the very noticeable homosocial aspect to the story, as you’ve pointed out. I don’t think you’re that off-base.
DT: It is sort of a signal to the audiences of the time, and again I think it is one of those things which is surface enough that it’s not just me reading into it.
I want to talk a little bit about the dream sequence at the end, simply because it does seem in some ways a little at odds stylistically with the rest of the movie. It’s very clear that it’s a dream sequence, there’s no question about it — there’s even a superimposition of Accattone sleeping so that we know for sure it’s a dream sequence, and it echoes some of the things we see earlier in the movie with the funeral procession.
There’s this great moment where he’s trying to speak to the thief character that pops up throughout the movie, the one who keeps telling him that’s he’s not meant to be a pimp. He goes to talk to him and the soundtrack of the movie has this mumbling overdubbed, and Accattone keeps saying, “I can’t understand what you’re saying, I can’t understand what you’re saying,” which is such an accurate dream element that I felt was really striking.
The fact that the rest of the movie is presented very starkly — and it’s not that the dream sequence is more visually distinct from the rest of the movie necessarily, it’s just that the logic on display is very much dream logic. And then you have him come up to the cemetery and not be allowed in, and then climb the wall and tell the gravedigger where his grave should be placed. I found that very affecting, and I think it’s most affecting because not only is it so different from the rest of the movie, but also because it comes right at the end. It is kind of setting up all the action that’s going to take place immediately afterwards. I mean, that final twenty minutes of the movie — it’s interesting to hear some criticism that this is a slowly-paced movie, and I guess it kind of is if you’re not expecting it, but that final twenty minutes where it’s him getting a job, him rejecting a job, him deciding to become a thief, him getting together with the thieves and having an aborted attempt to rob a car, them sitting on the sidewalk and having this laughing fit, then them attempting to steal from a car, getting caught by the police and him running off and getting hit by a car and presumably dying — that all happens in a really compressed amount of time.
AG: Yeah, and it’s a brutal punch to the gut. And I agree with you, the funeral fantasy sequence is very striking. It didn’t bother me that there weren’t really any fantastical elements in the movie until that point, I think it works pretty well.
DT: In fact, it might work better because of that. Again, with the Pasolini films that I’m familiar with, the fantastical aspects are kind of commonplace. So here, where it’s really more focused on sub-working class and people on the margins of society, I feel like it’s more striking because of how it’s presented and when it’s presented in the movie. And I think also, because we know that within Accattone there’s some sort of conflict, that there is some sort of feeling that he is moving towards his own death, that it maybe does make us a little more sympathetic towards him. Because, again, basically all he does after that dream is decide to become a thief, so it’s not the most sympathetic action in the world, but we know at least subconsciously that he knows what he’s doing is not necessarily the right thing to do.
One thing I didn’t notice upon first watch and only noticed after reading about it, and again, this is probably because of my disconnect from religion, is that when the thieves are standing over Accattone’s body at the end, as they’re crossing themselves, they’re crossing themselves the wrong way. Which I did not pick up on, that the thief who’s already in handcuffs, he crosses himself the reverse way that you’re supposed to, and I’m sure Pasolini was very aware of what he was doing.
AG: Yeah, that was definitely intentional.
DT: The idea of someone dying between two thieves is obvious Christ-like imagery.
AG: But the “catch” is that unlike Christ, his death does not lead to any kind of redemption or salvation, everything just continues on.
DT: I love that there isn’t a clear redemption at the end. Particularly because the movie starts with that quote from Dante, which only really makes sense in the context of the very end of the movie — my own personal takeaway is: who is irredeemable? And what does it mean to be redeemed? Could it be that final moment where he finally says he’s at peace because he’s doing to die — maybe that’s enough for him to be redeemed in the eyes of God, if you believe in such a thing? And the fact that he was able to make connections with other people, even if they were not just surface level, but actively perpetuating their own misery.
DT: So, if you were advising someone else who was watching this movie for the first time, what might they have difficulty with, and what are they likely to enjoy?
AG: Well, the version I saw had very bad subtitling, so that might be a challenge.
AG: Although I didn’t find the pacing to be an issue, it may be a little slow-moving for some people, and the fact that it’s a foreign language film might be a deterrent. However, I’d encourage them to put any reservations or preconceptions aside, because it’s a very poignant portrait of working class life, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a very specific time and place, and it captures the struggle of merely existing and the ugliness and confusion that often entails in a very relatable way. It’s a deeply affecting film.
What about you, Doug?
DT: Well, it really does depend on the person, right? Obviously, if you’re a mainstream Hollywood summer movie person, there’s a lot of hurdles you’re going to have to jump in order to connect with this movie. But if you’re the kind of person who’s likely to be reading an article about Accatone in the first place, and maybe have some general familiarity with Pasolini, that’s unlikely to be a problem. But the acting is by non-professional actors for the most part, and the camera tends to be rather static. There isn’t a lot of fancy movement.
Again, it is black and white, it is featuring a lot of naturalistic locations and they all appear to be post-war, bombed out locations. It’s slow-moving in the context of a modern viewer, though I was surprised by how not-bored I was by the content of it. I know that “bored” is a loaded word, but sometimes boredom is built into movies of this time period, where sometimes it’s supposed to be more melancholic or it gives you time to think about what’s going on, and there are moments of that here, but there’s a lot of plot here, there’s a lot of action, even if it’s not “action” in the modern meaning of that word.
And that’s a wrap! Join us again next month for Part 2 of The Pasolini Project, as we pay a visit to Mamma Roma. You can find Doug Tilley at No Budget Nightmares and Eric Roberts Is the Fucking Man, and on Twitter at @Doug_Tilley.