DVD region 2. Mr Bongo Films.
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.
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. .
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