Sunday, November 05, 2006

Notes on Pasolini's Uccellacci e uccellini

Totò (Totò) and his son Ninetto (Ninetto Davoli) walk a long road for a business trip, and after stopping in a small town they meet a talking crow that echoes all kinds of leftist platitudes. He also tells them a story about two followers of St. Francis, and as he tells the story Totò and Ninetto are themselves transformed into these two monks (or perhaps the actors playing Totò and Ninetto double as the two monks). St. Francis orders the two to convert the Hawks and the Sparrows, and this they are able to do after a long and mighty effort by the older monk. They return to St. Francis, who responds in a way they hadn't expected. They go back out on the road, and then we are returned to the journey still travelled by the businessman, his son, and the talking crow (which makes a lot more sense after the Fransiscan interlude). Is the leftist commentary spoken by the crow supposed to be the fruits of the missionary work by the two monks? Or is it perhaps a contradiction of the earlier religious message? The movie is certainly vague enough for either interpretation.

The three have several more adventures, some of them fairly bawdy, some of them rather like religious fables themselves. Totò as a character is a perfect blend of Chaplin and Keaton, with a slightly sharper edge and good deal more lascivious. Ninetto is a bit of a mimbo, but perfect as a happy version of the prodigal son's brother. The soundtrack by Ennio Morricone is the best I've heard in some time, whether it's the sixties rock and roll at the beginning or the organ playing in the background elsewhere. And I've never heard credits sung before, and it works extremely well here. For all the ideology spouted by the crow, a great deal of joy comes through in scene after scene of this minor masterpiece. Watch it as soon as you can.


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