Saturday, April 22, 2006

TEOREMA (1968)

This film by gay Marxist Pier Paolo Pasolini has been read as being about the rotting away of the bourgeois family, or about the connections between passion and religion, but I think it's really about Terence Stamp's crotch, which gets as much screen time, if not more, than any individual character. There are worse things to spend 90 minutes on than looking at the lovely young Mr. Stamp and his crotch, but I could have done with a little more fleshing out of characters in the narrative, and a little less deliberate obscurity in the allegorical structure. The plot outline, shared by the later Stephen Sondheim film SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE, is solid: a middle-class family welcomes an outsider (Stamp) into their home; one by one, each member (mother, father, son, daughter, maid) is seduced by him, though it's more to the point to say that he is simply the passive object of desire and that each family member becomes consumed by desire for him and acts on that desire with very little actual prodding by Stamp. Suddenly, Stamp is called away by telegram, leaving each family member to deal with his absence. The son is driven to create his own style of art which involves urinating on his canvasses as he tries to recreate the precise shade of Stamp's glowing blue eyes. The mother (Silvana Mangano) has meaningless sex with anonymous partners who look like Stamp and the daughter goes catatonic. The maid (Laura Betti) becomes a odd sort of prophet, able to heal and levitate; when we last see her, she is being buried alive (by Pasolini's mother in a cameo role) with only her mouth visible. Finally, the father (Massimo Girotti, the lead stud twenty years earlier in Visconti's OSSESSIONE, gives his factory up to his workers and in the last shot of the film is wandering naked and screaming in the wilderness. The first half with Stamp languidly romping from bedroom to bedroom actually becomes rather boring; the second half, with the family members imploding, is more interesting, but would be even better if so many details of the narrative weren't so willfully obscure. The lack of specific character and narrative details allows wide-open interpretation but also lets a viewer off the hook by allowing him or her to claim that so much muddiness can only amount to nothing. (After I wrote the first draft of this review, I discovered that Slant Magazine's Dan Callahan has also noticed the focus on Stamp's private parts, and he attributes it to Pasolini's own desires and fetishes.) For what it's worth, the title is Italian for "theorem," which means a proposition which is demonstrated to be true. [DVD]

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