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MAMA ROMA
DVD region 2. Mr Bongo Films.

Mama RomaPier Paolo Pasolini’s Mama Roma comes armed with a mighty critical reputation. However, I suspect most fans of the controversial director will find this to be somewhat lacking in entertainment value, having neither the beauty of films like The Gospel According to Saint Matthew nor the transgressive qualities of The Decameron or Salo. Instead, it plays like an uneasy mix of Italian neo-realism and self-conscious soap / melodrama.

Anna Magnani stars as the title character, a middle-aged and well worn prostitute who has decided to give up her career and begin a new life selling vegetables on a street market, while bringing up her estranged teenage son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo). But her efforts to better herself – and her son – are doomed to failure, as the young slacker falls in with a bad crowd of delinquents and falls for a young unmarried mother.

Mama Roma unquestionably has many impressive qualities – Magnani is effective as the not-particularly sympathetic lead character, devoted to her son and willing to do anything – including blackmail – to help him advance in the world. First seen making a scene at her former pimp’s wedding, she’s relentlessly loud and pushy, given to filling in the back story in lengthy soliliquies to an ever-changing audience as she walks the streets.

Mama RomaThe film undoubtedly looks great too – like other Italian films of the period, it seems so far removed from modern life, with its crumbling landscapes and cast of beaten down characters, that it might as well be science fiction. Pasolini directs with assurance, and the individual scenes are impressive enough, with some none-too-subtle religious symbolism (Ettore ends up strapped to a table in prison, the scene resembling a crucifixion). The problem is that as a story, the film really goes nowhere slowly. Garofolo’s character is so dead eyed and gormless looking that it’s hard to have any sympathy for him, especially as he seems a thorough waste of space, unwilling to take any of the meagre chances life throws at him. While this might make his mother’s efforts all the more tragically futile, you do wonder why she bothers at all – in the end, he’s an annoying little shit who deserves everything that happens to him.

Pasolini fans will probably want to check this out for historical reasons, but while this is an impressively mounted production in many ways, it’s clearly the work of a director yet to find his voice. .

DAVID FLINT

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