December 1, 2004
Pier Paolo Pasolini,
Starring: Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini, Luisa Loiano, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini, Vittorio La Paglia, Piero Morgia, Franco Ceccarelli, ,
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s short career was marked with controversy and notoriety. He made films that satirized and critiqued the political and religious conventions of Italy. Mamma Roma (1962) was Pasolini’s second film and his take on the Italian neorealist drama.
Mamma Roma (Magnani) is a single mother trying to raise her son, Ettore (Garofolo). She used to be a prostitute but has since moved on and now runs her own market stall in the city. All she wants is for her son to learn a trade and better himself so that he doesn’t have to work the land like the countryside “hicks” she so despises. However, he ex-lover and pimp, Carmine (Citti), comes back into her life and forces her to revisit their sordid past—one that she has tried to put behind her and keep from Ettore.
If that wasn’t enough of a problem, Ettore meets Bruna (Corsini), a girl close to his age who has a reputation not unlike his mother at that age. Bruna even has a young child and is brash and outgoing like Mamma. Once she learns of the blossoming relationship between her son and Bruna (and her reputation), she warns him to stay clear of the young girl. Ettore is torn between his desire to be with Bruna and his love for Mamma.
Mamma is loud and tactless—she gets drunk and acts obnoxious at a wedding reception, even singing a vulgar song to the bride and groom. She loves and is very proud of her son. Reportedly, there was on-the-set conflict between Anna Magnani and Pasolini. She wanted to maintain her glamourous image and he wanted gritty realism. That push and pull is evident in the final product. At times, Magnani looks haggard and slightly disheveled but she is beautiful nonetheless. She has a voluptuous, Sofia Loren quality and a striking screen presence and charisma.
Mamma Roma features black and white cinematography that is beautiful when Anna Magnani is on camera (evoking her reputation as one of Italian cinema’s biggest movie stars at the time) and then becomes grittier and almost like a documentary when the focus is on Ettore and his friends. Pasolini also stages a very impressive long take as Mamma walks and talks, telling two different men the story of how a man she knew made money under Mussolini’s rule. The camera tracks along without a single cut as she tells her story and then meets up with others. Magnani pulls it off beautifully in what must have been a tough scene to perform.
The booklet that comes with the DVD features excellent liner notes by Gary Indiana and two insightful interviews with Pasolini on both Mamma Roma and “La Ricotta.”
The first disc has a “Poster Gallery” with various designs and styles and the theatrical trailer.
The second DVD starts off with an “Interviews” section. Director Bernardo Bertolucci (who began as a production assistant on Pasolini’s first film, Accattone) talks about how Mamma Roma was an anomaly because the popular genres in Italian cinema at the time were spaghetti westerns and politically correct comedies. Pasolini’s long-time director of photography (he worked on 11 of 14 of his movies), Tonino Delli Colli speaks warmly of his experiences with Pasolini and how actress Anna Magnani moved her hands so much that Pasolini would tell him to shoot her from the shoulders up. Enzo Siciliano, author of a Pasolini biography, talks about the filmmaker as a storyteller and how he was a novelist and poet before becoming a film director.
“Pier Paolo Pasolini” is an hour-long documentary made in 1995 by Ivo Barnabo Micheli that examines Pasolini’s short career. It documents his start as a novelist to his final film, the notorious Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and his brutal murder. There are some fascinating insights into the man’s work, for example, how fine art profoundly influenced the look of his movies. Also included is some excellent archival interview footage with Pasolini.
Finally, there is the short film “La Ricotta” that was made the same year as Mamma Roma. It stars Orson Welles as a filmmaker who makes a movie about the Passion of Jesus. The film was controversial for its time and attacked for its satirical religious and political themes. There is an irreverent tone to the film that seems rather tame now but must have infuriated people at the time.
Mamma Roma is a powerful coming-of-age story and an unflinching look at the struggles of the Italian lower class. Criterion has come through again with a nice transfer and extras that immerse one in the world Pier Paolo Pasolini.