♦ Popular: “Accattone” (1961)
From his first film, which depicts the tribulations of a small pimp, Accattone (Franco Citti), in the suburbs of Rome, the filmmaker affirms the complex relations he maintains with a Catholicism whose popular rituals and aesthetics permeated his Friulian childhood. “When it spins Accattone in 1961, he was already violently attacked for his novels deemed obscene and his articles, in particular a diatribe against Pope Pius XIIexplains René de Ceccatty. Obviously, there is on his part a desire to provoke by filming a petty delinquent and making him go through all the stages of the Passion of Christ. But it was a way of showing that, for him, the true Christianity lay there, in the suffering of the poor. »
→ REREAD. Forty years ago, Pasolini assassinated
It will start again the following year with Mamma Romawhose heroine, a pious Roman prostitute, mourns her son at the end, filmed as a reclining Christ. “Pasolini belonged to two traditions, Marxist and Christian, which manifest themselves simultaneously in his work and both leave traces in him”says his biographer.
♦ Sacrificed: “La Ricotta” (1963)
It is one of the four sketches of Rogopag, which will cause the film to be immediately censored on its release for its character “blasphemous”. Pasolini will even be given a four-month suspended prison sentence for “offense to the state religion”complaint withdrawn on appeal when his next film, The Gospel According to Saint Matthewwill be chosen to represent Italy at the Venice Film Festival.
This short takes place on a movie set, where a well-known director, played by Orson Welles, stages a blockbuster about the life of Christ. One of the extras, Stracci, starving because he preferred to feed his family before him, gorges himself on the ricotta bought for the purposes of the film and dies of suffocation on the cross, under the jeers of the other actors. “Pasolini is interested here in the figure of the good thief crucified alongside Jesusemphasizes René de Ceccatty. There again, he shows that the real Christ for him is not the one represented in the film but the simple extra who sacrificed himself for his own. »
♦ Revolted: “The Gospel according to Saint Matthew” (1964)
It was while taking part in a conference at the citadel of Assisi, where he was invited to read this Gospel, that the director had the idea of making a film of it. “His interest in the text is both spiritual and aesthetic.suggests René de Ceccatty. At that time, embarrassed by the legacy of Italian neorealism, he was looking for a simpler and more immediate cinematic writing, which he found in the Gospel. »
→ ARCHIVES. When the Cross Defended Pasolini’s Gospel
The figure of Christ that he draws in this film, far removed from the Sulpician image then conveyed in numerous Hollywood productions, is dark, rebellious, irascible, which willingly shakes the Pharisees and the merchants of the temple. The choice to interpret it of a young Catalan communist militant, Enrique Irazoqui, whose face reminds him of the Christs painted by El Greco, reinforces the effect of reality and distances it from historical reconstruction. This quest for truth and the sacred, intended to return to the letter of the Gospel, earned him the grand prize of the International Catholic Film Office, but was violently criticized by the left.
♦ Prophetic: “Birds, small and large” (1966)
With Birds, big and small, the filmmaker changes tone and, under the guise of a popular comedy, signs a violent attack against the ideological dogmatism of the Communist Party, from which he begins to break away. To do this, he hired Toto, the comic star of the time, and added Ninetto Davoli to him in the role of the innocent. They interpret two vagabonds who wander in the Roman countryside and meet a raven who speaks to them.
In this entirely metaphorical film and considered obscure by the spectators, a scene evokes the Christianity of the poor through the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi (and his sermon to the birds), which appears to Toto, without there being however, there is no desire for derision, considers René de Ceccatty. “That’s the whole mystery of Pasolini. He could not help making a connection between the militants and the prophets whose word has the ambition to change the world. Religious language is for him not very different from the humanist political language in which he believed. »
♦ Scandalous: “Theorem” (1968)
Pasolini definitively leaves the territory of realism with this film of symbolic and mystical significance, in which a strangely beautiful character invites himself into a family of the rich Milanese bourgeoisie. He will seduce each of his members (the father, the mother, the two children as well as the good Emilia) and have sexual relations with them which will radically transform them. Virulent criticism of the Italian bourgeoisie, this parable around an angel interpreted by Terence Stamp, with a divine or diabolical nature depending on the interpretations, who uses sexuality as a means of “revelation”caused a scandal upon its release.
“The symbolic force of this metaphor was used by the filmmaker to strike the spectator more than with a subversive intention”, insists René de Ceccatty. The film also received once again the grand prize of the International Catholic Film Office in Venice, which was withdrawn six months later due to the controversy triggered by this award. A Roman lawyer will also try to have his exit banned because of his judged character “obscene”.
♦ Whistleblower: “Saint Paul” (project)
Shortly after turning The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Pier Paolo Pasolini plans to make a film on the life of Saint Paul, this time transposing it to contemporary Italy. It is not for him to distort the course or the words of the apostle, who, as in The Gospelwill be carefully respected, but “to give cinematographically, in the most direct and violent way, the impression and the conviction of its actuality”he wrote in his notes.
His modern “Babylons” would have been New York, Washington, Paris or London, places of power and perdition, in which the message of the saint would attack a society based on class violence and imperialism. “For Pasolini, Saint Paul was another figure of Christ, more violent, more aggressive and more rooted in the political reality of his time. He shared his vision of a corrupt humanity running to its loss., explains René de Ceccatty. The project, proposed in 1966, then in 1968 after Theoremis constantly postponed but will not be definitively abandoned until 1975.