Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

Pigsty is the title in English, a movie written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini that I've been watching over the last couple of nights. According to "ali-112" at IMDb the film has been shamefully botched in the transfer to to DVD, and it's true that the colors bleed all over the place, the film is badly scratched, and the reels themselves are shown running out three or four times in the course of its 99 minutes. But it's still an intriguing and at times deeply unsettling film for the reasons Pasolini presumably intended.

I'm not even going to try writing about this without describing key events in the film, so if you're interested in seeing the film yourself with suspense (such as it is) intact, consider yourself forwarned.

There are two stories presented here. One concerns a young warrior and takes place in a barren, volcanic landscape between a kind mythical medieval age, but with guns, while the other unfolds in a Rennaissance villa in the present era. The former story is almost entirely free of dialogue, or almost any words until very near the end, while the latter is presented to us in the abstract dialogue of a young man and woman in the beginning, and then other members of the young man's family as the story progresses (to the extent that it can be called a story at all; often it more resembles a philosophical dialogue on film).

The story of the young warrior begins when he comes across a helmet, sword and gun on the ground. He dons the armor and soon finds himself in combat with another strange warrior who could himself have just come across a helmet, sword and gun. He kills the other, takes off his armor, and then savagely renders the corpse. Then he eats it.

From this moment the brutality is carried further by the young warrior and a partner until it becomes a conflict between I think are two distinct tribes. There are what seem to be the development of rituals to celebrate and/or avenge the violence perpetrated on and by others i.e., tossing a victim's severed head into the mouth of a volcano, or earth vent, or whatever it is. The conflict and the society portrayed are elemental, savage, and cruel to a degree that must be considered evil - though of course if they are in fact rituals they are likely intended to ward off evil. As the young warrior is himself led to sacrifice at the end of the story he repeatedly says, "I killed my father, I ate human flesh, and I quiver with joy." He is staked out on the ground and left to wild dogs. As I said, it's all deeply unsettling.

Interspersed with this is the story that begins with a conversation between a young woman and man. As much as the other story is told in primeval images, this story consists almost entirely of dialogue that is sophisticated and at times so abstract it's hard to follow.

The young man is often as whimsical as the young woman is in earnest. She is an idealist, political, and alternates between demanding that he live up to her conception of him and pointing out what seem to her contradictions in his character. He puts her off in most of the scenes, chiefly because of her political concerns, and yet feebly pursues her in other scenes out of what seems to be (a fairly lame) erotic curiosity.

The story expands to the rest of the young man's family: his father, Herr Klotz, a former Nazi industrialist (too obviously sporting a Hitler mustache) and his mother, who is shown conversing with her husband and the young woman about her son.

A business partner (or perhaps competitor) shows up and meets with Herr Klotz. Their conversation covers everything from the good old days of Nazi Germany to the failure of Klotz's son to achieve anything. Some of this conversation is carried on while Herr Klotz plays heavenly strains on his harp, and the mansion in which it all takes place is as luxuriently austere as the other sequence was primordial.

It's hard to see, or at least it's hard to remember, what really becomes of the conversations and conflicts between each combination of characters. Herr Klotz and the other businessman end up toasting each other with glasses of beer; the mother and the young woman are shown conversing at the foot of a four-post bed in which the young man is stretched out in a position that both calls to mind and defies the position of the young warrior at the end of the other sequence.

Maybe it's the Girard I've been reading of late, but I couldn't help but see both stories in light of his observations on violence, sacrifice and society. The worlds depicted here are both polarized and similar to a point of common identity. Pasolini made the movie in the late sixties and therefore precedes Girard's major works on these themes, but I wonder whether he might have benefited from Girard's analysis. I think Pasolini somehow has it backwards, though I admit this may be because I read Girard first. Perhaps I can explain why in a longer post, but much of it has to do with Pasolini's take on the role of priests (and presumably the church) in the primitive sequence and the idealization of politics in the civilized sequence. Nevertheless, he has definitely hit on something in both stories. It's definitely worth a second viewing, and probably more than that. And I haven't even gotten into the title.


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