Monday, October 23, 2017

#609: Accattone

1961, TSPDT Rank #540

Accattone - a born thief and a reluctant pimp - is the low-life character who provides the focus for Pier Paolo Pasolini's bold debut feature as a director. Right out of the gates Pasolini's directorial vision was one of unvarnished beauty and originality. He alternates sweeping panoramic shots of his characters alone in a variety of wide open spaces (city streets, barren fields, courtyards) with closer handheld shots of the characters walking together. The style is striking and poetic, elevating a story would seem to be prime neorealist material into something that's closer to baroque tragedy (aided by the melancholy strains of Bach throughout the film).

Pasolini's affection for characters living on the margins of society is apparent here - as the film progresses we begin to feel a strange sort of detached sympathy for Accattone, a character that steals from the helpless (including his young son), cheats his low-life friends, and exploits a small number of helpless women in order to eat. Our sympathy for Accattone is seemingly derived from his inevitable downfall (which a group of his so-called friends constantly predicts in the manner of a Greek chorus) and the debilitating pangs of conscience which haunt him. In Pasolini's hands, he is almost a martyred figure - someone who will never be able to fit into society, his own vision of a good life, or be worthy of a place in heaven. This hard-edged outlook on modern life is tempered by Pasolini's love of classical form and style, resulting in a film which may have been born from the ashes of neorealism, but which ended up signaling the emergence of a new kind of Italian cinema.

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