Teorema. 16-May-2015. 2:30 pm

Pier Paolo Pasolini

TEOREMA (1968)
Italian (with English subtitles)
Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp

Italian cinema made a major contribution to the history of the medium with the development of Neo-Realism, a movement interested in the depiction of ordinary workers’ lives, often enacted by non-professional actors. Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) was a contemporary and friend of the neorealist brigadiers, and shared most of their concerns, but in the film we have selected for our season, Teorema (1968), this lone knight’s career was to go in a completely different  --if just as radical--  direction. 


A respected poet and novelist, Pasolini makes full use of the power of connotation in his storytelling. He specialises in adapting classical texts to depict contemporary experience. In his films, ordinary people are enmeshed in daily epic struggles, sometimes with the system, sometimes with themselves. Pasolini’s films suggest that profound social change can only come from an awareness of history, and that the revolutionary cinema that will facilitate this change can only come from an awareness of film, art, and literary history.  His films include reinterpretations of classic Greek texts such as the Oresteia, although his adaptations were never as radical as when he targeted the most influential text in the Europe of the modern era: the Christian New Testament.


Pasolini’s political commitment drove him to direct a number of documentaries, dealing among other things with the Palestinian cause, left-wing terrorism, and post-colonial Africa. He stood up repeatedly in defiance of the conservative forces in his native Italy, as an openly atheist, communist, gay man, and he was rewarded with prison, and the banning of his works. But they never managed to silence him  -- until they murdered him in 1975.  Pasolini’s determination reminds us of the current situation in Iran, where under tight censorship and with scant resources, filmmakers may well be producing the most radical and exciting films in the world today.  Cinema is powerful, as the powerless know.  One of the useful lessons of Pasolini’s cinema, is that militant filmmaking does not have to be all hand-grenades, all kindergarten rhetoric,  it does not have to compromise its aesthetic or conceptual frame – it can as complex, sophisticated, open-minded, and generous-to-interpretation as you like.


Teorema (1968) is a good example of this. The film deals with the empty lives of posh-b##stards and holy-Marys. And yet, Teorema was not made to denounce their inhumanity, or to laugh at their hypocrisy, but to awaken their flesh to the need for connection, and to make them understand that all the hungers of the world come from it. ‘We are all the same’, Teorema seems to say, ‘We are all bodies’.  This is a gloriously irreverent version of the old story of a miracle-making human god, sent to Earth to liberate people…  through carnal pleasure.  Terence Stamp is suitably magnetic in the main role, and his ‘converts’ match him in intensity when they swap their fosilized lives for salvation. The film itself, organised in a series of  linked tableaux, is a rosary of visual statements that will burn your retina and lodge in your brain for a long time.


Four years before Teorema, Passolini had directed The Gospel According to Saint Mathew, a surprisingly respectful take on that chap from Nazareth who dared to live differently – his plain story was radical enough (Passolini cast his own mother as the mother of Christ). Inspired by the progressive programme of Pope John XXIII, whom he admired, Passolini had already made a short film about Christ in 1963, La Ricotta, which had landed him a prison sentence for obscenity. Despite that, Passolini was undeterred, determined to share again the good news:    All flesh is holy.

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