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MAMMA ROMA (review)

99e5f80fc2b3498353d19da32c4daa34_jpg_290x478_upscale_q90MAMMA ROMA
Written and Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Staring Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo and Silvana Corsini

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film really is no different, thematically and tonally speaking, to the rest of the feature length films in his career. With a neo-realism approach to filmmaking, MAMMA ROMA is a bleak portrayal of a woman and her son trying to survive in a post-Fascist Italian society, while trying to climb the socio-economic ladder to finally make a life for themselves. Pasolini himself was more than just a filmmaker; he was a linguist, a journalist and most definitely a poet, as one can see throughout his film career. Literary works, like the works of Dante and the Marquis de Sade, appear frequently in his films, often citing passages to convey the emotional struggles of his characters. MAMMA ROMA may only be his second film, but Pasolini’s passion and politics are evident from the very first scene.

Middle-aged prostitute, Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani), bursts into the wedding ceremony of her former pimp, Carmine (Franco Citti), with three pigs whom she calls “their brothers and sisters of Rome”. The whore has been freed by her pimp and she has more cause to celebrate than the new bride and groom. During a sing-off where Mamma Roma calls the bride a “flower of shit” and then steals her veil, she announces she is taking her son, Ettore (Ettore Garofolo), out of the country and into Rome so they can start a real life with her new fruit stand. A noble charge indeed.


After a lifetime of prostitution and failed relationships, Mamma Roma imagines how the life she will have with her son will be; living in an upscale neighbourhood, her son working a good job, her fruit stand being successful and herself, a former whore, having respect. So she whisks Ettore to a new apartment that overlooks a cemetery in Rome and sets up shop. Quickly though, Ettore is back hanging out with the wrong crowd, stealing from sick patients in hospitals and spending the days loitering around the ruins on the outskirts of the slums. Ettore meets Bruna (Silvana Corsini), a young mother who is regarded by the other boys as rather easy and will generally sleep with anyone, and whom his mother wants him to have nothing to do with.

As much as Mamma has tried to escape her former life, there is always something that keeps either bringing her back to it (setting her son up with a prostitute) or coming back to haunt her, as we see when her former pimp finds her and her son and demands money. This scene is probably one of the most revelatory of the entire movie. Carmine declares that he was actually forced into the role of pimp by Mamma herself, and he feels that she now owes him something because he has now fallen on hard times. Whether this accusation is true or not, it reveals much about her character, especially when we see she coerced a local restaurant owner to hire her son. But despite her attempts, her son doesn’t want to work a traditional job nor does he have the desire to study; he simply wants to make money working for himself. Ettore’s listless and zombie-like demeanour eventually culminates into a full on fever and sickness, which puts him in the hospital, and eventually strapped down, Christ-like on a wooden board left to die.


While there is lots of imagery, poetic dialogue and allusions to the socio-political state of Rome that might not make much sense to everyone (basically I had to do a fair amount of research to decipher the references and history), the one thing that stands out among everything else is Magnani’s acting. I was only familiar with one other role in her career, that of Lady in THE FUGITIVE KIND, from the Tennessee Williams play “Orpheus Descending”. The most interesting scenes take place while Mamma Roma is walking the streets late at night with her prostitute friends or with the John’s she picks up along the way. These long singular takes are not only beautiful visually, but the dialogue is extremely lyrical. As Mamma talks seemingly to herself, different characters come in and out of the frame to talk to her; it is still one conversation but with multiple people.

There is also the question of the presence of a fly in the bottom right corner during the opening credits. An internet search has come up with multiple theories ranging from some sort of symbolism to chance, but after seeing the movie it feels as though it was quite intentional. The more familiar one gets with Pasolini’s work, the more one realizes how grimy his films actually are. The fly, is probably representative of Rome itself and its dirty politics, which Pasolini has always been critical of; his characters are whores, pimps, thieves and the greedy bourgeoise. MAMMA ROMA’s emotional impact stems from these political themes and its haunting imagery; the story of a struggling woman will stick with you for days after viewing. And unlike his French contemporaries responsible for the New Wave movement of filmmaking, the more I learn about Pasolini, the greater I appreciate his works as an artist.

4 sheep



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