Sunday, 6 April 2008

Teorema (1968, Italy, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

"No matter what the bourgeoisie does, it's wrong".

Pasolini's parable is one of his most complex and moving films. Terence Stamp visits a Milanese bourgeois family, arriving as if from nowhere; none of the family personally know him but there he is all the same at a party that is being held. This episode is preceded by several incidents that increase the significance of his arrival; first, a journalist commenting on a factory boss giving his factory to his workers, in which the above quote is used to refer to his actions. Then we have a direct quote from Ezekiel 20:35, narrated, "and I will bring you into the wilderness" over the recurring motif of a scorched desert. We also witness the bourgeois family is question going aboutb their business, though this is filmed in black and white, with the Morricone score muting any dialogue. Of course both colour and sound return with the first glimpse of Stamp. But who is he and what does he represent? Some have stated that this visitor may be interpreted as either God or the Devil, but either way the impact he has upon the family is immeasurable.

After making love to each of the family in turn, they all experience separate revelations or epiphanies and they subsequently feel the need to confess and talk about this experience with him. It changes each person too for better or worse. The young son, an aspiring artist rejects his studies after succumbing to self doubt. The mother in a moment of self-awareness acknowledges the emptiness of her life and lack of interest in anything. The father's entire identity and self-image is called into question, whilst the daughter finds that his arrival has cured her fear of men.

And then like that, the visitor leaves, which creates a void in each of their lives; an emotional and spiritual bankruptcy. The daughter becomes catatonic, an illness that the doctors fail to comprehend. The son's artistic pursuits become more abstract and radical. The mother has a series of sexual affairs with young men who bear a resemblance to the visitor. The father strips himself naked in a Milanese train station, which has a metaphorical as well as physical significance. The maid, who too had slept with the visitor, achieves sainthood, curing a disfigured childhood in a low-key miracle. That the proletariat are the sole social class capable of doing so reflects both Pasolini's own radical politics and the above quotation.

Though I've never seen it mentioned before, I can't help but feel as if Pasolini's film influenced two further pieces of work at least; Harold Pinter's 'Brimstone and Treacle', in which a Christ or Devil figure upsets the balance of a middle class family, and Francois Ozon's 'Sitcom', in which a mysterious stranger, e.g. a rat throws a middle class family into chaos though with more farcical results. Though the latter perhaps maintains the theme of sexual repression that is present in 'Teorema' (in that Stamp's visitor helps the family overcome their comformist and repressive behaviour), it doesn't have Pasolini's overt political intentions. Some have alluded to the quasi-Freudian aspect too, which would reflect the Freudian angle of Pasolini's retelling of the Oedipus myth, in that the family members' sexual lust for the visitor displaces and reflects their own incestuous desires. 'Teorema' uses a theme that wasn't unique to start with; the repressiveness of bourgeois respectability, but Pasolini gives it a philosophical and sexual dimension which ultimately results in one of his finest films. 4/5

1 comment:

Peer Onrust said...

Brimstone and Treacle was written by Dennis Potter, not Harold Pinter.