Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Oedipus Rex (1967, Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

Pasolini was a director who was a mass of contradictions, attempting to reconcile his Marxist beliefs with the role and participation of his family in Fascist society (his father was in the Army and had once saved Mussolini's life), as well as his homosexuality and Catholicism. Most known at this point for his neo-realist 'The Gospel of St Matthew', 'Oedipus Rex' began the phase in Pasolini's career when he began to film classic myths and literature, which would include 'The Canterbury Tales' and 'Decameron' subsequently.

Pasolini's film is a largely faithful retelling of the Oedipus myth, although it is significantly bookended by contemporary scenes which have been considered autobiographical to some extent. This myth appealed to Pasolini on a person level, and the film offers a perspective on his own relations to his parents. The prologue to the tale, set in Fascist Italy clearly shows the mutual jealousy between the child Oedipus (Pasolini? - with more evidence provided later by Franco Citti, Pasolini's alter ego in the adult role) and his father, a soldier. Pasolini freely admitted that he was narrating his own life in this prologue, mythologised of course. Upon the child's banishment in the contemporary setting, it then cuts to the original setting that the myth; 428 BC.

The myth is familar to most so it doesn't really require repeating. What is interesting is how Pasolini subverts the Oedipus character itself though. Originally a man of wit and quick thinking, Pasolini shows him as an opportunist and a cheat. In the myth, he defeats the Sphinx through answering her riddle correctly; instead he overpowers an all too human sphinx by brute force. Though a victim of fate whose destiny is decreed by the Gods and cannot be changed, this is an earthy and less than heroic Oedipus, particularly brutal in the death of his father and less than benevolent as a ruler. Pasolini also disregards tradition be filming the entire myth, not as Sophocles play starts, several years after Oedipus has assumed the throne of Thebes with Jocasta (his mother) as his wife.

Filmed in deserted and sparse landscapes in Morocco, with locals filling in as extras and with native costumes and music, it is typically sumptuous visually as the more exotic Pasolini films were. Pasolini's interest in Greek tragedy would continue with 'Medea' (1969), which could be seen as a companion piece to this film. This is cinema as both poetry and psychology. 4/5

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