Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Women of Stone
Love and oneiric memories play a central role in artistic creation providing a generative passion and a series of conscious and unconscious associations which are the often hidden texture of a work. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s rather cryptic statement “I have dreamt of making love to women of stone “could therefore be seen as an important artistic lever where a locus often incongruous and fragmented, Pasolini’s vision of the female character, acquires unexpected consistency. In fact, even if Pasolini never explained what kind of love he made to the women of stone of his dreams , the existence of an artistic love is nevertheless obvious ; it is a love of pure representation generating images remote ( the word stone already suggests it) from the common sensual icons depicting women in films.
I shall not attempt to examine each of Pasolini’s films; the focus will be on some particular ones with reference to other cinematic and poetic work, since reference to poetry could never be neglected when viewing a film by a director who was most of all a great poet and who called “real” cinema “il cinema di poesia”.
It is also important to keep in mind that any investigation of Pasolini’s polysemic universe , in his literary work as well as in his filmography , will encounter at times a willed obscurity due to Pasolini’s desire to “explain” with what is called by Giuseppe Zigaina “a cryptographic method of writing with a conditional decipherability” 1). The ambiguity is often passionately pursued by Pasolini . It is at times a thought provoking reminder that nothing is simple in a relative reality mediated by language and cultural differences ; in other instances it appears as an irritating display of an intelligent mind showing off its sophistic ability.
Revealing is the answer Pasolini gave in Le belle bandiere , ( a collection of dialogues with readers on the weekly magazine Vie Nuove ) , to a reader who wrote to him that she found a lecture he gave in Bologna in 1965 admirable but at times difficult to follow especially for the preciousness of the terms used. Would it not be possible, the reader asked, to speak about art with a language more accessible to everybody?
In his answer Pasolini admits that any problem, even the most difficult can be “simplified and vulgarized”, but “simplification and vulgarization “by giving the solution in simple words do not add anything to one’s culture besides the illusion of knowing more. Every idea, for Pasolini , is double : it has either two roots or two possibilities of development, hence the difficulty of expressing it; furthermore, the specialized language of different disciplines is arduous , not because it is hermetic, but because it is elliptic since it refers to a set of specific ideas previously developed within a system of knowledge. “My language” concludes Pasolini, “presents itself like an enemy to be conquered, even though I try to make it clear.” 2)
Thoughts are often contradictory, logic is a snake that frequently bites its own tail and a specialized language is antagonistic to the outsider ; these are facts. However one is left to wonder if Pasolini’s effort to conquer the obscurity of his language bows to a certain narcissistic “ first in the class “ elitism. He certainly does not seem to agree with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s aphorism stating that “everything that can be said, can be said clearly”.
Duplicity of thoughts is, however, a powerful artistic tool which breaks a monolithic way of thinking in fragments often contradictory but stimulating; it is among these fragments that Pasolini’s women of stones should be sought.
The word “stone”, among other things , evokes the idea of immobility, remoteness , cruelty and possibly danger , confirming the suspicion that making love to women of stones does not mean making love to women, but loving the artistic representation of the female character more often than not mediated in negative terms and antithetical to voluptuousness.
Within this frame of unpleasantness Pasolini depicts a non identified female reporter in the poem Una disperata vitalità. 3) For the usually mild mannered poet she is “il cobra col golfino di lana “who is accompanied by a” cobra subordinato che screma in silenzio magnesio”, presumably a photographer. The reporter, the“ maledetta cretina” who takes notes with a ballpoint pen, is occasionally mentioned throughout the poem as “ la cobra con la biro che ride”, il cobro con il biro [sic] “ and “ reticente, mordicchiando il biro”[sic]. While Pasolini describes himself as “ come un serpe ridotto a poltiglia di sangue” the cobra listens, her attentive immobility intermittently broken by the scribbling of the pen. Toward the end of the poem we find out that the cobra is a “ signorina “, a young lady whose gender has been poetically manipulated along with the gender of her pen-tongue. She is il cobra, la cobra, il cobro with la biro and with il biro. This is not a jocular game of assonance; the poem is by far too excruciating to make any room for levity. Rather it shows the poet’s desire to de-gender women, to de-generate them and to ignore their sexuality.
Pasolini performs the same operation in a sonnet written in 1973 . It was a bad year for the poet. Ninetto Davoli, the young man who meant so much to him, fell in love with a woman and decided to get married . Pasolini was desperate; in a collection called
L’ hobby del sonetto he acknowledges that his “ terrible Lord “ is “ distant it appears because of a love “ and begs him “ senza pudore “ to remain “ in his (Pasolini’s ) desolate male nest”.4) In the next to the last sonnet he tells of an accidental encounter between himself, Ninetto and Ninetto’s bride . It was two in the morning and Pasolini was in the sordid Piazza dei Cinquecento ( the place where two years after he will pick up his murderer ) talking to some boys when Ninetto drove by. “ You arrived with your car “ Pasolini writes “ and sounded the horn; next to you was a horrible young individual”. 5) Gender cannot be identified in the expression orribile giovane individuo: we know who she is, but the poet has neutralized her sex beneath two adjectives with only one ending for masculine and feminine and an impersonal noun bespeaking police station terminology. Understandably Pasolini did not attend Ninetto’s wedding. Officially, he was searching for locations for Il fiore delle mille e una notte where in some sequences his pain outpours in the representation of the female character, icon of his rage at Ninetto and at the appeal of femininity.
Il fiore delle mille e una notte is per se a topos of opposing interpretations and definitions. The very style of the film exemplifies this by contrasting the powerful aesthetics of sequences “oozing” their beauty into the camera with a disconcerting dubbing from Italian into Italian . Pasolini himself who filmed to celebrate Eros and innocence in an atmosphere of colors, light and smiles and considered Il fiore the happiest film of his Trilogy of Life , repudiated it soon after its completion proclaiming, (after his fetishistic love ( of male bodies ) so obvious in Il fiore ), his hatred in the presence of sex organs as expressions of “ false tolerance and corporal degradation.” Critics and colleagues also reflect divergent opinions : on one side Alberto Moravia praises the “ utopian smile “ of Il fiore , at the opposite end Federico Fellini states that Pasolini should do anything but movies and often the same person proffers two contrasting views. Exemplary is Lino Miccichè who spends words of admiration for the “ lyrical tissue of sweetest abstraction “ 6) of Il fiore delle mille e una notte , but also considers it , not the acme of the Trilogy of Life, but part of a “ tetralogy of death” including Decameron, Canterbury Tales and Pasolini’s last work Salò. 7)
The dissonant voices , including Pasolini’s , reflect intersecting meanings working out, in Il fiore , the author‘s personal conjunction in which, in some episodes, the female character, cause of impotent anguish in “real” life , is the threatening woman of stone, receptacle of negativity ( therefore deserving punishment ) and also, not surprisingly, fulcrum of sado-masochistic identification.
Particularly revealing is the story of Aziz (Ninetto Davoli) and Aziza , his cousin and bride to be. On the day of the wedding Ninetto - Aziz falls in love with a mysterious girl who appears at a window conveying cryptic messages to him. Not only does Aziz forgets about his wedding but confides his love for the beautiful stranger to Aziza who , gallantly, helps him to understand the messages . Under a tent Aziz and the beautiful stranger make love; to her he recites the verses given to him by Aziza who dies of a broken heart in the meantime. Accused by the beautiful stranger of having caused his cousin’s death, he is commanded to build a marble tomb for Aziza. One day, on his way to meet his lover , Ninetto - Aziz is kidnapped and pushed into a house were a rich girl marries him without too much resistance on his part . He is also told that the beautiful stranger is Budur the Mad One who caused the death of many men. After a year of continuous lovemaking with his new bride , Aziz , while approaching his mother’s house, spots Budur’s tent and pays a visit. The girl who spent a year waiting , avenges herself castrating Aziz with the help of a group of women. The young man returns to his mother; she gives him a parchment left to him by Aziza who forgives him of every fault. The episode ends with Aziz embracing his mother on the terrace where he used to meet Aziza.
The presence of Ninetto Davoli in Il fiore delle mille e una notte is an immediate indication to a probable intertext involving Pasolini’s life; the fact that the director did not write the stories does not undermine this possibility since the choice of the episodes from One Thousand an One Nights was made by Pasolini and in terms of subconscious motivations a choice is equivalent to a personal writing.
Indeed, it does not seem excessive to discern in the maternal ( and paternal in an episode in which fathers are absent ) , poetic and intelligent Aziza, decoder of cryptic messages and analyzer of feelings , the broken hearted Pasolini who, like Aziza to Aziz, expected to be Davoli’s life companion as he reveals in Bestemmia : Il vostro posto era al mio fianco, - e voi ne eravate anche fiero ; dicevate, - del sedile della macchina presso il volante, - “ Qui ci devo stare solo io .” 8) ( Your place was at my side - and you were even proud; you would say , - from the car seat at the steering wheel , “ I am the only one who must be here.” )
On the other hand , Aziz carries Davoli’s lighthearted youthfulness when he insensitively confides in Aziza his confused passion. Again Pasolini’s verses bear witness : “ Signore che non sa cosa gli capita? - Sempre ci si perde, anche senza proprio morire: - lo sapevamo - io pedante , voi leggero .” 9) ( Sir who does not know what is happening to him ? - Always we get lost, even without dying : - we knew it – I pedantic and you lighthearted . )
In the story of Aziz and Aziza, the representation of the female character is aesthetically and psychologically pervaded by a stone-like quality. Women are consistently framed by windows, walls, tiles ; their expression is outwardly impassible and sculptured - like. Aziza’s sorrow is recognized exclusively by her poetic verbalizations ; equally unalterable and expressionless is Budur when she orders Aziz’s punishment ( Pasolini the avenger of Pasolini the victim ?) and when, motionless (!) in a seemingly irrational crystallization of the flesh , she awaits to be penetrated by the phallic shaped arrow aimed at her femininity by Aziz’s bow.
Motion belongs to the love sick Aziz , seen running through narrow streets, and to the camera panning on a city in which predictable and allusive minarets are not seen ; they have disappeared like the little boys following Aziz on his first unexpected encounter with Budur, to give way to a stony labyrinth made of homes, porticoes, terraces and dark windows - obvious symbols of female sexuality. With the lulling motion of the camera Pasolini is making love to the women of stones of his dreams.
With its distant almost petrified immobility , the female representation functions in this quasi autobiographical episode not only as an icon masking Pasolini’s intimate sentiments , but also as a magnetic polarization for a masochistic mechanism so typical in the director’s entire work.
In fact, Aziz’s itinerary in the episode is nothing but the obsessive repetition of the classic fort-da game . Compulsively attracted by the statuesque Budur , Aziz manages to lose her five times by falling asleep or eating when he should not. Cryptically written messages, mysterious gestures , symbolic objects and rituals provide the variations to a subconscious game of reaching and losing created by Aziz. His frenzy is controlled by the powerful Budur, a stony icon appearing and disappearing , attracting and repudiating.
As Gaylyn Studler , in Masochism and the Perverse Pleasure of the Cinema, espousing and at times paraphrasing Gilles Deleuze’s theories on masochism, states : “…Masoch’s fictive world is mythical, persuasive, aesthetically oriented, and centered around the idealizing, mystical exaltation of love for the punishing woman. In her ideal form as representative of the powerful oral mother, the female in the masochistic scenario is not sadistic, but must inflict cruelty in love to fulfill her role in the mutually agreed upon masochistic scheme.”10)
In the masochistic mechanism , the most important figure is a primordial mother goddess “ powerful in her own right because she possesses what the male lacks - the breast and the womb …….Only death can hold the final mystical solution to the expiation of the father and symbiotic reunion with the idealized maternal rule. The masochist imagines the final triumph of a parthenogenetic rebirth from the mother.” 11)
In the optic of this theory, the absence of the father (he exists but we never see him on the screen ) and the youth of Aziz’s mother , played by an actress certainly not older than Ninetto Davoli , acquires relevance in the episode. Symbolically, in the masochistic system, we are at a primordial time in which fertility is exclusively of the woman.
The invisibility of the father and the tight embrace of Aziz ( no longer a “man”) to his mother must therefore be seen as a desired parthenogenesis and symbiosis.
In an ensuing story , the director’s rage against women, icon of power and sexuality, explodes with unequivocal sadism. Exuding the usual autobiographical intertext , the narrative is very simple : a young man discovers an opening on the ground through which he descends in a subterranean edifice , tomb and palace at the same time. Here a beautiful girl is kept prisoner by a demon who comes every ten days to make love to her. The young man, who has fallen in love with the girl , wants to liberate her, but the sudden appearance of the demon forces him to flee leaving his shoes behind. The demon captures the young man and takes him back to the palace. Here he gives the girl a sword and tell her to kill her lover to save her own life; she refuses and so does the young man when the proposal is made to him. At this point the demon (actor Franco Citti who already played Oedipus, Pasolini’s alter ego ) dismembers the girl’s body. Severed as a conquered icon by an invading army , the powerful and powerless female , the prisoner of the womb like cave who revealed love to the young man, is taken apart and demystified.
Sorrow has bowed to rage; in the metamorphosis from the broken hearted Aziza to the sadistic demon , we can discern Pasolini’s tribulations.
The overt development of the plot ( the love of the demon for the woman ) should not mislead . Another significance works against the current of the signified and surfaces specifically when the demon embraces the young man as soon as he meets him, when he does not kill him but rather he kills the impassible stone like female , when he carries him in a long embrace over an unknown land and when he transforms him into a monkey (“become what your nature desires to become”) punishing him for succumbing to an animal (natural) kind of love.
Excessive meaning mottles boundaries separating opposite significances echoing Roland Barthes’s words on the obtuse meaning and the filmic: “ the presence of an obtuse, supplementary third meaning ….radically recasts the theoretical status of the anecdote : the story (the diesegis) is no longer just a strong system (the millenial system of narrative) but also and contradictorily a simple space, a field of permanence and permutations.” 12)
The remolding of the theoretical status of the anecdote is , in Il fiore delle mille e una notte , a subtext in which the women of stone, mediated on the screen in unequivocal masochistic and sadistic terms, bound to their natural (primordial) power the textual and flaunted male sexuality.
A characteristic stone quality relates also to sequences depicting women in the autobiographical Oedipus.
Recasting the drama of his own sexuality as a subtext of the mythological diesegis, Pasolini could not avoid pointing out his sexual indifference vis à vis the female body, distant icon to whom he can make love only as a filmic aesthetic representation. One sequence is particularly dense with significance as Maurizio Viano points out in A Certain Realism. Oedipus has just received the response of the Delphic oracle ; after meandering in the desert , stunned by the sun and by the revelation, he arrives to a half dilapidated construction in front of which adolescents are playing. An old man invites Oedipus to enter the construction, a veritable labyrinth of stones and passages that take him in view of a naked seductive young woman.
As Viano indicates, the filming of the sequence presents a “deviation from Pasolini’s customary style” with an unusual “over the shoulder shot” which “allowed Pasolini to show both the girl’s face and Oedipus profile, his features contracted in a rigid spasm, one fixed eye clearly visible in the foreground. “To be sure,” concludes Viano, “the risk, here and in the rest of the film, is that of taking the images too literally, but it is hard to think of a better cinematic depiction of the nightmare of forced heterosexuality.” 13)
Indeed a beautiful woman in a labyrinth of stones, as distant as an icon from the senses of Oedipus, reveals the director’s anomalous sexuality in an anomalous, (Pasolini’s dedication of frontal filming is well known ) cinematic frame with a profile in the foreground. Furthermore, immediately before the entrance in the labyrinth , the specular view of Oedipus and a young Moroccan boy, called by Viano “the hallucinatory encounter with one’s self, with the doppelganger” 14), corroborates Pasolini’s revelation of his homosexuality as anomalous in the eyes of the “normal” world : as the mischievous smile of the lively young boy widens on his face, the joyousness of the image is blemished by the appearance of badly decayed teeth.
The young woman framed by stones has proven Oedipus - Pasolini unfit to be with the majority of men. Two other women in the same film seal his “monstrous” fate. The first one is the Delphic priestess portrayed by the director as an individual whose sex is difficult to detect because of her massive body covered by an arboreal vestment . This is how he describes her in Oedipus Rex: “ She is an abstract , absent, fanatical and obese woman; her face has the pallor of a corpse, and her black-ringed eyes are full of hate and hysteria…….. Impassively and mechanically , she performs the acts of the ritual, then, without any form of participation, almost bureaucratically, in a species of dumb rage, she pronounces the horrifying verdict of the god on this youth . “ 15)
Another distant, mechanical , impassible woman of stone is “de-gendered ”by Pasolini into a sexless bureaucrat doing her job with customary efficiency.
It would be difficult in all these characteristics , including the stalking “ black ringed eyes” , not to see the reticent , dangerous and distant cobra cobro of Una disperata vitalità.
The other woman icon of tragedy in Oedipus is Jocasta. Her first meeting with Oedipus who has just defeated the Sphinx is described by Pasolini in the text of the film in these terms: “ And at the very end of the procession is the queen : Jocasta , the mother of Oedipus. She is being carried in a dazzling litter , screened by precious curtains - the embroideries of Idria. She appears only briefly : her sweet , cruel face, with its Tartar eyes, and her white breast swelling beneath her white robes.” 16)
Jocasta ‘s appearance in the film differs from the script description . The dazzling litter is replaced by a rudimentary wheelbarrow concealing the lower part of her body; her torso is enveloped by what appears as an armor plated cloak. But the changes re-propose the same idea of weakness and strength, sweetness and cruelty. A rhythm of callousness and love is established as can be observed by the sapient counter shots of the camera when Oedipus faces the crimes destined to him by the cruelty of fate. As the king confronts the revelations of the murder of his father followed by his replacement as passionate husband to his mother, the camera intermittently pans on the ochre colored royal palaces and enters the intimacy of Jocasta’s chamber, showing in quizzical close-ups her unexpected expressions .We do not see a distraught woman. She is neither shocked nor horrified by the disclosure of the murder and the incest. She seems to ponder, fear, worry, conceal, and ultimately laugh at what is destroying Oedipus and the city of Thebes. What we see is a sequence of poses. They are not fleshy and humane. Their sufferance is not palpable as Oedipus’s despair at the approaching of truth . They are mythological and remote expressions, engraved in stone as the insistent panning of the camera on the façade of the massive palaces showing through the narrow stone opening indifferent and smiling faces of women. Indeed their role in Pasolini’s films is not of flesh, sex , nor passion. Had they been trees, they would have been cut down to the mere trunk . Basic images of feelings.
Ultimately, in Pasolini’s Oedipus , contrary to the mythological tale telling us that Laius
gave his son to the servant to be killed, it is Jocasta who did it :
Old slave: : The child was his own. But no one knows this better that your wife Jocasta, who has just gone back to the palace…
Oedipus: She gave you the child?
Old slave: Yes, she gave it to me.
Oedipus: And with what orders?
Old slave: To kill him.
Oedipus: And the reason for this atrocity?
Old slave: She was afraid of evil prophecies.
A calculating stone hearted woman therefore, who enjoys sex with her grown up son , but decrees that her baby be killed for fear of evil prophecies.
An equally archaic stone hearted mother-lover is introduced by Pasolini in Medea. As a primitive priestess she is closer to nature, but to a nature that , echoing the words of Chiron the Centaur , is not natural ; it is a nature that is not evoking clarity, harmony or love, but rather blood, cruelty and the most “unnatural “ of crimes, the murder of one’s own children. In Pasolini’s film, the first image of Medea is a close up of her impassible expression framed by the precious stones of her headgear and her necklaces . She is in a cave and she is gazing at a young prisoner (soon to be executed ) who is groaning and hanging from the ceiling by his arms. Black statues or white statues, depending on their monotonous dress code, the women in Medea sit, pray , hoe, weave wool or scream in pain ; encumbered by their heavy clothes , they have the depth of cut out figures created as an excuse to show the background. We see them near homes, inside a claustrophobia generating temple, along walls and in the foreground of the beautiful rocks and perforated mountains of Cappadocia . In Medea vitality belongs to the men who chat, laugh, eat, giggle and dance among themselves. The same protagonist of the film , Medea, is framed by a monotonous series of close-ups , certainly less eloquent than the mythical hills surrounding her.
Medea’s passionate nature , a characteristic which brings her to murderous folly , cannot be denied. Yet she is never sexual in Pasolini’s film. Sensuality belongs to Jason and his friends; specifically it belongs to their naked legs, arms, to their bodies barely covered by scant clothes , to their mischievous smiles and to their roguish eyes following the distraught Medea who, lost in a world that she does not understand, invokes : “ Stone, talk to me .” Medea’s body is never seen ; while Jason takes off his clothes in their intimate moments, she lies down clothed in her incommodious black vestment keeping her eyes open during lovemaking as if she were not really participating , as if she were a statue. Again, voluptuousness is antithetical to the woman of stone to whom Pasolini in his creation-dream makes only artistic love.
As Laura Mulvey writes in her seminal article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema , the representation of the female in films, evokes fear of castration in the male spectator who belongs to the phallocentric patriarcal order. “ The male unconscious “ writes Mulvey “ has two avenues of escape from this castration anxiety : preoccupation with the re-enactment of the original trauma ( investigating the woman , demystifying her mystery) , counterbalanced by the devaluation , punishment or saving of the guilty object ( an avenue typified by the concerns of the film noir ); or else complete disavowal of castration by the substitution of a fetish object or turning the represented figure itself into fetish so that it becomes reassuring rather than dangerous ( hence over-valuation, the cult of the female star )”. 17) In Laura Mulvey ‘s view, the first method of escape is associated with voyeristic sadism, the second with fetishistic scopophilia.
Medea , in Pasolini’s film is a “ recessive ” protagonist . More than choosing she is chosen by tragedy ; she is mechanically re-acting her myth of savage woman as in the killing of her own brother committed with shocking automatism. The gaze ( voyerism ) of the spectator has condemned her from the first frame of the film when it incorporated Medea’s gaze ( her own voyerism ) of the tortured youth. On the other hand, fetishism and scopophilia cannot operate on Medea’s body, obliterated by Pasolini.
It is interesting to notice how a typical scopophilic and fetishistic representation has been overturned by Pasolini in Medea. I am referring to the very common “ water scene ” , the scene in which women are swimming naked , taking baths or showers and are spied upon by men whose gaze becomes the gaze of the spectator, finding pleasure in uncovering , “ violating ” and demystifying the female body. We have a similar “ water scene ” in Pasolini ‘s work , but the naked body is not Medea’s ( always encumbered by her vestment that must make every movement difficult especially in this sequence ) ; naked, and with a certain insistence of the gaze , are her two beautiful children. Their slim white bodies are reminiscent of the victim contemplated by Medea at the beginning of the film. She embraces them and calls them “ amore ” with the same inflection of voice used by Oedipus when he called his mother “amore”. This love , so tragic and desperate echoes Pasolini’s verses of Supplica a mia madre : 18)
Per questo devo dirti ciò che è orrendo conoscere:
è dentro la tua grazia che nasce la mia angoscia.
Sei insostituibile. Per questo è dannata
alla solitudine la vita che mi hai data.
E non voglio esser solo. Ho un’infinita fame
d’amore, dell’amore di corpi senz’anima.
Perché l’anima è in te, sei tu, ma tu
sei mia madre e il tuo amore è la mia schiavitù.
For this I must tell you what is horrendous to know: / my anguish is born inside your grace. / You are not replaceable. For this is condemned / to solitude the life you gave me. And I do not want to be alone. I have infinite hunger / for love, for the love of bodies without soul. / Because the soul is in you, it is you, but you / are my mother and your love is my slavery .
Mother as unwilling cause of anguish, solitude , slavery, is therefore resented and yet supremely loved. A powerful cocktail indeed , originating the ambiguous mother icon giver of life and death of Medea and Oedipus or the curious but not uncommon composition of mother, prostitute, sinner and saint as presented by Anna Magnani in Mamma Roma where, above all narrative details , the image of the suffering mother emerges with insistent hints to catholic iconography .
It is around this image that Pasolini’s cinema becomes particularly self referent and possibly rather megalomaniac in The Gospel according to Saint Matthew . If Susanna Pasolini , the director’s mother , is chosen to play the silent and immensely suffering Virgin Mary , it is not difficult to discern who is identifying with Jesus .
The closeness of mother and son , never expressed in dialogues nor in contemporary presence during the film , which in its diesegis is , again , a patriarchal affair, finds its locus in a curious suggestive parthenogenesis , mediated on the screen by the striking facial similarity of the young virgin ( Margherita Caruso ) and Jesus ( Enrique Irazoqui ), who often keeps his head covered in a woman fashion.
The role of women in general, not indifferent in the Gospels, is minimal in The Gospel according to Saint Matthew and aesthetically similar to their already discussed representation in Medea. After the disappearance of the young Virgin from the screen, the discourse of the film will be mainly among men until the tragic climax when the director chooses to portray , with a mixture of love , guilt and exhibitionism, the sorrow of the Mother through insistent close -ups of the face of Susanna Pasolini
Pasolini’s verses in the poem La crocifissione 19) serve as a commentary to the last images of the film :
Tutte le piaghe sono al sole
Ed Egli muore sotto gli occhi
di tutti: perfino la madre
sotto il petto, il ventre, i ginocchi ,
guarda il suo corpo patire .
Noi staremo offerti sulla croce,
alla gogna, tra le pupille
limpide di gioia feroce,
scoprendo all’ironia le stille
del sangue dal petto ai ginocchi,
miti, ridicoli, tremando
d’intelletto e passione nel gioco
del cuore arso dal suo fuoco
per testimoniare lo scandalo.
All the wounds are in the sun / and He dies under the eyes / of everybody: even his mother / under the chest, the belly, the knees, / watches his body suffer. / …….We will be offered on the cross , / exposed to pupils limpid of ferocious joy, / opening to irony drops / of blood from chest to knees, / meek, ridiculous, trembling / of intellect and passion in the game / of the heart burnt by its fire / to witness the scandal.
Now the essence of sorrow is in the petrified expression of a woman’s face , the icon of the suffering mother chiseled in stone.
In The Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Pasolini seems to play a curious game of equivocation in his representation of Salomè. As several critics have pointed out , the biblical temptress has been de-sexualized in Pasolini’s film. Indeed , what we see on the screen is the image of a lithe adolescent sitting on a stone chair playing a solitary game of pebbles ( ! ) . Her hair is not sensually flowing , but is neatly arranged on her nape ; her white clothes are modest and so is her dance performed for Herod : an innocent, virginal, harmonious oscillation accompanied by the weaving of a branch of white flowers. When the music stops she anxiously returns to the arms of a middle aged woman who had helped her get dressed .
In essence she is a child repeating the steps she learnt in school in front of her ecstatic father ,therefore her cruelty , demanding the head of John the Baptist , appears at first unimaginable, but, if related to some equivocal signs pertaining to the role of the other woman ( mainly a way of looking - kissing ) it acquires plausibility as a sadistic twist in the play of ambiguous tenderness between the two . Sexual temptation has disappeared from the heterosexual context to be glimpsed at in a homosexual one as it could be expected.
This notwithstanding, Pasolini’s Salomè is a delicate young girl whose expressions and motions suggest poses carved from marble and alabaster by Renaissance sculptors. Ilaria del Carretto specifically comes to mind, as mentioned by Pasolini in L’ Appennino : 20)
Dentro nel claustrale transetto
come dentro un acquario, son di marmo
rassegnato le palpebre , il petto
lontananza. Lì c’è l’aurora
dove giunge le mani in una calma
e la sera italiana, la sua grama
nascita, la sua morte incolore.
Sonno, i secoli vuoti: nessuno
scalpello potrà scalzare la mole
tenue di queste palpebre.
Jacopo con Ilaria scolpì l’Italia
perduta nella morte, quando
la sua età fu più pura e necessaria.
Within the cloister transept / as in an aquarium, her eyelids are / of resigned marble, her breast / where her hands join in calm / remoteness. Here is Italy’s dawn / and evening, its poor / birth, its dying without color . / Sleep, the hollow centuries; no scalpel / can lay bare the tender massiveness / of these eyelids. / Jacopo with Ilaria sculptured Italy, / lost in death, when her age / was more pure and necessary.
Words as claustrale, marmo rassegnato, calma , lontananza , pura, bespeak
of chastity and vulnerability as ethereal images did in the representation of Salomè.
Among the women of stone “ loved ” by Pasolini in his cinematic creation, we therefore also find the archetype of the little sister , a more comfortable ( for the director ) configuration , appearing in lieu of the sensuous temptress . In this optic , apparent misplacements play an incongruous game in Pasolini’s documentary La rabbia in the sequence dedicated to Marilyn Monroe when the traditional glamorous poses of the actress and the siege of the photographers are commented by a poem, Marilyn, written by the director whose words do not gloss her beauty, topos of sensual desire , but her beauty as reflection of the vulnerability of a little sister : 21)
Del mondo antico e del mondo futuro
era rimasta solo la bellezza, e tu,
povera sorellina minore,
quella che corre dietro ai fratelli più grandi,
e ride e piange con loro, per imitarli,
e si mette addosso le loro sciarpette,
tocca non vista i loro libri, i loro coltellini,
tu sorellina più piccola,
quella bellezza l’avevi addosso umilmente,
e la tua anima di figlia di piccola gente,
non ha mai saputo di averla,
perché altrimenti non sarebbe stata bellezza.
Ora i fratelli maggiori finalmente si voltano,
smettono per un momento i loro maledetti giochi,
escono dalla loro inesorabile distrazione,
e si chiedono: “E` possibile che Marilyn,
la piccola Marilyn ci abbia indicato la strada?”
Ora sei tu, la prima, tu sorella più piccola
quella che non conta nulla,poverina,col suo sorriso,
sei tu la prima oltre le porte del mondo
abbandonato al suo destino di morte.
Of the ancient world and of the future world / only beauty had remained, and you, / poor little sister , / the one who runs after the older brothers , / and laughs and cries with them to imitate them, / and wears their scarves, / and touches, unseen , their books, their little knives, / you younger little sister, / humbly wore that beauty, / and your soul of common people’s daughter , / never knew had it, / because otherwise it would not have been beauty./ You always carried it inside, like a smile through tears, / shameless because of passivity, indecent because of obedience. / Now finally the older brothers turn around , / relinquishing for a moment their cursed games. / They come out of their relentless distraction, / and ask themselves : “Is it possible that Marilyn / little Marilyn showed us the way ?” / Now you are the first, you younger sister, / the one who does not count, poor little thing, with her smile, / you are the first one beyond the doors of the world / abandoned to its destiny of death. ) /
Not only does there seem to be any cohesion between the commentary and the nature of the image, but the spoken is working against the seen when Marilyn described as sorellina minore , tenuous , light and always too young, becomes Ilaria . The poetic displacement continues as Pasolini reproposes a female icon, obviously not created by him because of the reality of the documentary, enveloped in words stressing not sensual feelings but the lack of attention and the perennial distraction of the older brothers, paradoxically noting her presence only when she is gone. Even Marilyn , in Pasolini’s poetic annotations has become a woman of stone, “loved” exclusively in an artistic representation glossed by poetic arbitrariness.
Whether participant in convoluted sadomasochistic strategies ,“de-gendered”, stripped of sensuality or simplified in stereotypical background roles , Pasolini’s “women of stone” project an incongruous quid pro quo , a sense of not being and irrationality that ultimately is part of poetic essence. So all considered , this is the love, the poetic love, that Pasolini has dreamt of making to them.
Claretta Micheletti Tonetti
1. Giuseppe Zigaina, Pasolini Between Enigma and Prophecy , trans. Jennifer Russel ( Toronto: Exile Editions , 1991 ) , 156.
2. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Le belle bandiere ( Roma: Editori Riuniti , 1977 ) , 294.
3. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia ( Milano: Garzanti , 1993 ) , 726. My trans.
4. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia, 2346. My trans.
5. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia, 2347. My trans.
6. Lino Miccichè , Cinema Sessanta ( Roma: settembre-ottobre 1974 ) , 99 . My trans.
7. Lino Micchichè , Cinema Sessanta ( Roma: maggio-giugno 1978 ) , 8.
8. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia, 2344. My trans.
9. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia, 2345. My trans.
10. Gaylyn Studler, Masochism and the Perverse Pleasure of the Cinema in Film Theory and Criticism ( New York - Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1992 ) , 774.
11. Gaylyn Studler, Masochism and the Perverse Pleasure of the Cinema , 780.
12. Roland Barthes , The Third Meaning in A Barthes Reader ( New York: Hill and Wang, 1982 ) ,329.
13. Maurizio Viano , A Certain Realism ( Berkley : University of California Press, 1993 ) , 182.
14. Maurizio Viano , A Certain Realism , 181.
15. Pier Paolo Pasolini , Oedipus Rex , trans. John Mathews ( London : Lorrimer Publishing, 1971 ), 44.
16. Pier Paolo Pasolini , Oedipus Rex , 59.
17. Laura Mulvey , Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema in Film in Theory and Criticism ( New York-Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1992 ) , 753.
18. Pier Paolo Pasolini , Bestemmia , 622. My trans.
19. Pier Paolo Pasolini , Bestemmia , 376. My trans.
20. Pier Paolo Pasolini , L’Appennino , trans. William Weaver , in Twentieth Century Italian Poetry ( Indianapolis and New York : Bobbs - Merrill Company , 1974 ) , 342.
21. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bestemmia , 1770. My trans.