Allegoric Religiosity in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone

:
Surpassing Neorealismo & Towards A Spiritual Nature of Man
by

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD

Copyright © 2002 - Present MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD | All Rights Reserved.

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THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

Allegoric Religiosity in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone :
Surpassing Neorealismo & Towards A Spiritual Nature of Man Pier Paolo Pasolini’s first film, Accattone (i.e., known by the same title in English), may well be viewed as the cinematic interpretation of a broader literary style for which the reputed Italian author had previously gained international acclaim. Deeply admired by his compatriots for his philosophically profound and often quite poetic literary representations of the most disenfranchised members of Italian society, Pasolini incorporates religious symbolism and epic allegory into Accattone, while fulfilling and even surpassing the broader requirements of Neorealist traditions in cinema. As was so integral to the Neorealist endeavor in film, Pasolini constructs a story within the social-historical context of lower classes existing outside the normative urban network. As director, however, Pasolini pushes his own cinema past the objective confines of such a genre, by realizing his own distinctly literary style with the filmic poetry of Accattone. Like most of the Italian Neorealist films of the late nineteen-forties to early sixties, Accattone (Rome: Arco Film, 1961), as a later derivative form of the genre, focuses mainly on the struggle of the marginalized lower classes, as they struggle at the farthest periphery of a more functionally elevated and elite social-cultural community. While continuing the typically Neorealist analysis of Man’s existential isolation and the dysfunction of his social identity – through the use of nonprofessional actors and on-location shooting, for example – Pasolini pushes even farther outside of the urban center to sharpen his gaze on the sub-proletariat: a class of social outcasts that were previously ignored by the Neorealist tradition. Pasolini’s continues this divergence by framing his tragic fiction with poetic cinematography that consistently reveals the religious allegory of a shameful protagonist represented as a Christ-like anti-hero. Only in 1961, nearly 10 years after the socalled philosophical or metaphysical “crisis” of the Neorealist movement, could a director such as Pasolini successfully realize his personal literary style in cinema by depicting the distant margins of the Roman ghetto through the profoundly intellectual poetry of his screen play and the equally significant manipulations of his filmic imagery. In fact, the director’s juxtaposi tion of the most profane sub-society of thieves, pimps and prostitutes with such a sophisticated, literary cinematic form serves both to lend a sympathetic amount of epic heroism to the often ignored, always demoralized group of scoundrels and to emphasize the beauty of the films imagery through ironic, unexpected associations. Throughout the action of the film, the dark, boding theme of death penetrates and abounds, serving as a tragic, motive framing for the development of a religious allegory which unifies the plot. The story of Pasolini’s Accattone focuses on the final tragic days of the eponymous protagonist who, rather than being pushed to death by his rejection from society, finds himself incapable of defining and/or fulfilling his worthy social function in life; and who, therefore, seeks death himself, at numerous turns, as an escape from his own abysmal existence. Vittorio Cataldi (known as Accattone): a failure of a husband and father, is a member of a group of out-of-work subproletariat men who sit around all day swapping useless stories, while prophesying their own tragic ends. These vagrant, goodfor-nothing men generally ignore their obligation to support themselves and instead depend wholly on the gains of the women of the street whom they pimp and control. As Pasolini distinguishes his protagonist from this group of regular good-for-nothings, we are introduced to a fallen man, who at once both abandons his family and is drawn to being the pimp for Maddalena: a wanton prostitute, who, after having turned her previous pander into the police, shows no signs of harboring serious social loyalties. When attacked by the vengeful Sicilian friends of her previous pimp, Maddalena herself is taken in by the police. Accattone is then denied any source of income and begins to contemplate not death, but reform. Accattone’s penitence is however bluntly rejected by his wife: Ascenza, to whom he went to find support. At this midpoint in the filmic narrative, the beggarly and unsuccessful pimp meets by distinct chance the pure, innocent Stella: a spryly curvaceous and healthy young blonde woman, who had gained a living by collecting wine bottles for recycling in the slums,
ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961) FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW 1/6

THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

further outside the urban ghetto of Rome. Accattone soon abandons his initiative of reform and, responding to Stella’s curious fascination with the illicit profession of prostitution, introduces the naive angel of a woman to a new life on the streets. Accattone eventually comes to regret his responsibility in the tarnishing of Stella’s pure spirit a nd again seeks to escape his immoral, impoverished existence through moral reform, by finding legitimate employment. While Accattone’s own spirit seems morally opposed to the pimp’s profession, he is physically unprepared for real work. Out of exhausted de speration, he quickly chooses to abandon normative employment and turns to yet another illicit profession: thievery. Yet, just as Accattone was unsuccessful as a pimp and as a true working man, he fails as a thief. Ultimately, the protagonist is driven to his death, while fleeing the scene of a robbery gone awry. The film’s anti -hero, in fact however, finds bliss in death. For, such sanctity and satisfaction in dying was precisely what the protagonist had been seeking from the start of the film. In the end, Accattone’s quest is complete, and the anti-hero is redeemed by his corporal demise. In order to better recognize the poetry of Pasolini’s literary style and to understand how it is brought to the screen, it is important to analyze the thematic religiosity of multiple unifying images which define the film. As Pasolini’s first film, Accattone holds close to the Neorealist tradition in one very important way. The director herein analyzes a subject matter that is characteristic of the earlier, Italian cinematic genre of neorealismo : Man’s rejection from the greater social network and his inability to find again within it a place that corresponds to his true social-cultural identity and worth. As discussed above, Accattone is not only rejected from his family as a defunct father and husband, but he also finds himself morally incompatible with the inhumane responsibilities of the pimp. The protagonist’s inability to fully incorporate himself into any particular community is accentuated not only by his constant search for death but also by the hallowing presence of a certain antagonist: a thief, who constantly acknowledges Accattone’s solitude, criticizing him for not being suited for the pimp’s vocation: “Remember! We are all born for a vocation. You weren’t born to be a pimp, but a bum. And, here you are!” Pasolini, however, diverges from the Neorealist tradition by the manner in which he brings this analysis to the screen. The religious symbolism of Pasolini’s cinematic style fully distinguishes the director from more objective directors of early neorealismo , who rejected the overt use of poetry in film. The integral presence of the sub-proletariat community in Accattone is very significant to the cinematic poetry of the film, for it is only within this particular social context that such unmistakably Christian thematization may function. The depiction of Accattone as a Christ-like figure succeeds as significantly pivotal filmic symbolism; because, just as Christ once associated himself with the lowest vagrants of society, Accattone too finds his place among thieves and prostitutes. Moreover, the poetic significance of the protagonist’s identity is reinforced through his association with secondary characters, each who have names that reveal their allegoric function in the tragic story. The women of Accattone’s life represent three separate moments of the anti-hero’s journey toward tragic redemption. We first encounter Accattone as the pimp of Maddalena: a woman justly named as an explicit representation of the classical Christian image of a prostitute. The protagonist is therefore immediately associated with Christ. Once Maddalena has been jailed and Accattone attempts to initiate a moral reform, he humbly returns to beg for support from the wife he abandoned some time ago. Her name being a semantic derivative of a word loaded with religious signification, Ascenza represents here a higher moral and spiritual order to which Accattone can no longer gain access. Accattone’s social immobility (i.e., his inability to raise himself out of societal destitution) is then doubly represented a s both moral and spiritual immobility, for Accattone will never be permitted his proper ascension. Finally, Accattone encounters a woman whose innocence and celestial spirit is evoked by a name that translates as “star.” It is Accattone’s immoral behavior which pulls this star out of the sky and begins to extinguish its shine. Even Accattone’s name explicitly defines his character as a “beggar,” incapable of holding any job – be it criminal or legitimate. The film’s eponymous protagonist is therefore left only to beg for forgiveness, for redemption, and even for deat h.
ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961) FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW 2/6

THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

While the religious allegory is explicitly represented in the names of the characters, it is more poetically interpreted by the text of the screen play and in particularly subjective instances of Pasolini’s filmic framing of images. The start of th e film is a prime example of how the theme of death and redemption is fully represented through very effective cinematic allegory. We are initially introduced, not to Accattone alone but to a clan of vagrant men who sit together day after day with nothing to do but to share pointless conversations and to laugh down the unsuspecting passerby. Together, the men poke fun at the one young man who is actually going off to work, jeering at him and jokingly inviting him to join the ease, comfort and illusion of their careless leisure: “You still alive? They say work kills.” “It’s an honorable death!” “Hey martyr, listen to me! Quit working and come and joins us at Metro Goldwyn Mayer (roars like lion).” Pasolini, in his screen play, not only here initiates use of religious allegory through critically cynical sarcasm (e.g., the working-martyr is later named the “Prodigal Son”) and fully captures the shameful leisure that characterizes the men of the ghetto, but the director also represents the cinema itself as derogatively linked to the illusory comfort of these men’s l ives. The action of the film then shifts to focus on the brother of this “Prodigal Son,” the beggar. After hearing the legend of the death of Barbarone, Accattone decides himself to try to imitate the story and thereby achieve its own end. Just as Barbarone had done some time before, Accattone gorges himself on a plate full of potatoes and then goes to a bridge to jump to his expected death. The poetic framing here captures the protagonist high above a crowd of bystanders, in a position fully reminiscent of Christ displayed on the cross. Falling into the water below, Accattone’s body is even extended into the form of a cross: his legs held tightly together and his arms extended straight out on a horizontal, as if crucified. With Accattone’s failed suicide, Pasolini then introduces new extensions of this religious allegory in which we see the protagonist not only as hopeless character meant to escape a despicable existence through death, but also as someone who hopes to find in death a greater existence through legend. Accattone complains that he “still has to make people cry,” just as another man laughs away disappointment with another religiously significant joke: “Saint Barbarone protected you!” The man then goes to imitate the dead Barbarone by lying down on the ground in a position which evokes the traditional Renaissance image of a martyr or saint’s corpse. With this opening scene, Pasolini represents not only a pertinent social context where leisure is valued more than duty but also a profoundly allegorical reinterpretation of a shameful character who hopes to be canonized in the sanctity of death. Consequently, the final scene of the film represents the fulfillment of the protagonist quest toward redemption and escape, for it is only in death that he is satisfied. It is only in death that he finds the comfort and bliss that his peers so thanklessly exploit around him. Accattone’s anti-heroic struggle to come to terms with his criminally negligent behaviors, while truly regretting the forced immorality of his personal character, captures the protagonist in a state of perpetual flux between good and evil: a battle between Accattone and himself, Vittorio. Throughout the narrative context of the film, it is often very difficult to distinguish Accattone as a respectable human being. Even though his regret is explicitly represented in his whispered asides and soliloquies – “Mother Mary make me a saint now that I’ve done my penance,” he says to himself after comforting a sadden Stella – Accattone is almost always portrayed visually as a sort of monster or villain. For instance, when Accattone’s regret is rejected by his wife and her family, he and Ascenza’s brother take their confrontation into the small piazza of their poor neighborhood and begin to fight. Here, Pasolini chooses to frame the two
ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961) FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW 3/6

THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

characters in a way that is explicitly reminiscent of an American Western showdown, complete with the greater significances of a confrontation between good and evil. Accattone is wrestled down to the dusty ground; and, for the first time in the film, his pristine appearance is dirtied. In this instance of dirtied denigration, he is seen more as the vagabond he truly is. In a similar moment of blatant filmic poetry, Accattone again is represented as a monster when, in a drunken stupor after the start of Stella’s fall into prostitution, he rushes to the bank of a river, s plashes his face with water, and buries his face in the sand. As Accattone looks up to the friends who have followed him there, we see that the protagonist has now baptized his forsaken immorality in a monster’s mask of mud. Accattone’s regret and his corrosive self-disgust are opposed periodically throughout the film by the protagonist’s own impulsive tendency to blame others, often women, for his tragic existence. At the start of the film, in a sharp zoom of the camera that emphasizes the misogyny of the speaker, Balilla proclaims, “Damn all women, they take you up to heaven and they drop you!” In a similar vein, Accattone continues throughout the entire film to hold women in contempt for being the cause of his down fall. In fact, just after revealing the mud-mask of his monstrous identity, Accattone reproaches Stella with particularly contemptuous rage, blaming her for his failures and admitting his own self-disgust: “Can’t you see? I make myself sick! Before I met you, who was I? I had a car and m oney and everything I wanted…And now I am waiting for manna from heaven.” Accattone, as a villain, herein projects his own self -hatred onto the one woman who has been ready to accept the goodness that hides behind his monster’s mask. For, it is only Stella who identifies the protagonist not as Accattone, the beggar, but as Vittorio, the human: full of divine potential and moral value. Pasolini completes his film by fully denouncing the immortality and pathetic escapism of his protagonist, while introducing a surreal element that would have been entirely inappropriate within the context of strict neorealismo . As with most Neorealist protagonists, Pasolini represents sympathetically the social and spiritual isolation of his film’s eponymous anti-hero as a character clearly rejected by numerous hostile communities, while also insinuating that his protagonist’s own self-absorption and inability to accept the responsibility of failures are, in fact, the greater causes of his downfall. Just as De Sica’s anti-heroic protagonists of Neorealist cinema – such as in The Bicycle Thief and in Umberto D., for example – perpetuate their own isolation by ignoring the compassion around them, Accattone is incapable of recognizing and accepting his own personal occasion for redemption via the true love and support shown to him by Stella. In the end, Vittorio is left alone with his dreams, to watch as the corpse of his alter ego is escorted to the cemetery. Vittorio is left alone with his dreams, to beg for his body to be buried in the light of day and not in the shadows of night; as if, even in death, Accattone deserves one last glimmer of warmth, hope, and love. Pasolini’s use of a surreal dream sequence to close his film, combined finally with the allegoric representation of the nihilistic religiosity of Accattone’s actions throughout, fully distinguishes the filmmaker’s style from the more objective genre of neorealismo and brings this film to a poetic level far superior to that of his predecessors. While Pasolini has chosen, with Accattone, to focus on subject matter typical of the Neorealist tradition, the manner in which the filmmaker incorporates the strikingly allegoric religiosity of his poetic style into a socio-cinematic analysis of the urban marginalization and disenfranchisement of his characters allows Pasolini to push beyond the socio-historical boundaries of the Neorealist gaze and to begin to interpret more fully the spiritual nature of Man.

ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961)

FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW

4/6

THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCES
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Accattone . Rome: Cine de Duca/Arco Film, 1961. Film. Liehm, M. Passion & Defiance: Film in Italy from 1942 to the Present. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. Print. Marcus, Millicent J. Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. Print. Bondanella, Peter E. Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present. New York: Continuum, 2001. Print. Legner, Markus. The Art of Italian Cinema: Guidelines. Florence: Scuola Lorenzo de’ Medici, 2002. Print. Bertellini, Giorgio. The Cinema of Italy. London: Wallflower, 2004. Print.

ADDT'L. RESOURCES : Accattone
Téllez, T. L., in Contracampo (Madrid); December 1980. La Greca, A., in Cinema Nuovo (Bari); Jan.-February 1986. Pezzotta, A. "Io sono una forza del passato," in Filmcritica (Rome); Oct.-November 1988. Thirard, P. L. "Se suicider, c'est l'idee la plus simple," in Positif (Paris); September 1989. Beylot, Pierre. "Pasolini, du réalisme au mythe," in CinémAction (Courbevoie); January 1994. Castoro Cinema; July/August 1994. Orr, Christopher. "Pasolini's Accattone; or Naturalism & Its Discontents," in Film Criticism (Meadville); Spring 1995. Campani, E.M., "Death and Narrative: an Itinerary," in Blimp, no. 34 (Graz); Summer 1996. Kino (Warsaw); July/August 1998.

ADDT'L. RESOURCES : Articles
Murray, William. "Letter from Rome," in New Yorker (New York); 21 April 1962. Cameron, Ian, in Movie (London); September 1962. Bean, Robin, in Films and Filming (London); 12 September 1962. Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey, in Sight and Sound (London); Autumn 1962. Bragin, John. "Interview with Pasolini," in Film Culture (New York); Fall 1966. Conrad, Randall, in Film Quarterly (Berkeley); Winter 1966–67. Kauffmann, Stanley. "Poet and the Pimp," in New Republic (New York); 6 April 1968. Sarris, Andrew, in Village Voice (New York); 6 June 1968. MacDonald, Susan. "Pasolini: Rebellion, Art, and a New Society," in Screen (London); May-June 1969. Bragin, John. "Pier Paolo Pasolini: Poetry as a Compensation," in Film Society Review, nos. 5-7 (New York); 1969. Purdon, Noel. "Pasolini: The Film of Alienation," in Cinema (London); August 1970. Armes, Roy. "Pasolini," in Films and Filming (London); June 1971. Séquences (Montreal); July 1973. "Pasolini Issues" of Études Cinématographiques, nos. 109-111/112-114 (Paris); 1976. "Pasolini Issue" of Cinéma, no. 2 (Zurich); 1976. Gervais, M., in Wide Angle, no. 4 (Athens, OH); 1977.

ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961)

FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW

5/6

THE ART OF ITALIAN CINEMA Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici

MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD 20 Dec. 2002 / 21 Nov. 2013

ADDT'L. RESOURCES : Books
Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack. Bloomington IN, 1969. Gervais, Marc. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Paris, 1973. Siciliano, Enzo. Vita di Pasolini. Milan, 1978 (trans. Pasolini: A Biography. New York, 1982). Bertini, Antonio. “Teoria e tecnica del film” in Pasolini. Rome, 1979. Groppali, Enrico. L'ossessione e il fantasma: Il teatro di Pasolini e Moravia . Venice, 1979. Snyder, Stephen. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Boston, 1980. Bellezza, Dario. Morte di Pasolini. Milan, 1981. Bergala, A. & Narboni, J., Editors. Pasolini cinéaste. Paris, 1981. Gerard, Fabien S. Pasolini; ou, Le Mythe de la barbarie. Brussels, 1981. Boarini, V., et al. Da Accatone a Salò: 120 scritti sul cinema di Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bologna, 1982. Pasolini, Pier Paolo. Poems. New York, 1982. De Guisti, Luciano. I film di Pier Paolo Pasolini. Rome, 1983. Carotenuto, Aldo. L'autunno della coscienza: Ricerche psicologiche su Pier Paolo Pasolini . Turin, 1985. Michalczyk, John J. The Italian Political Film-makers. Cranbury NJ, 1986. Pasolini, Pier P. Lettere 1940–1954: Con una cronologia della vita e delle opere. Ed. Naldini, N. Turin, 1986. Schweitzer, Otto. Pier Paolo Pasolini: Mit Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten. Hamburg, 1986. Klimke, Cristoph. Kraft der Vergangenheit: Zu Motiven der Filme von Pier Paolo Pasolini. Frankfurt, 1988. Van Watson, William. Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Theatre of the Word. Lewiston CT, 1989. Rumble, Patrick. Pier Paolo Pasolini: Contemporary Perspectives. Toronto, 1993. Baranski, Zymunt G. Pasolini Old & New: Surveys & Studies. Dublin, 1999.

SOURCES CITED : Addt'l. Resources
Baxter, John. “Accattone: Film Synopsis/Review & Publications,” on FilmReference.com . Illinois: Advameg Inc., 2013. http://www.filmreference.com/Films-A-An/Accattone.html (01 March 2013).

FINAL DRAFT : Revision Copy-Edited for Publication, by Author (Thursday, 21 November 2013). Copyright © 2002 - 2013 MATTHEW D. BLANCHARD | All Rights Reserved. qherekidsf.com | 864 ELLIS ST STE 4F • SAN FRANCISCO CA 94109 USA | matthew@qherekidsf.com

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ACCATTONE (Pasolini, 1961) FILM ANALYSIS & REVIEW 6/6

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