An ode to 100 years of Pasolini

100 years on from the birth of Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, it is time to look at one of his most influential films

H. Jordan
5th March 2022
Credit: IMDb
Mamma Roma (1962), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, opens with the eponymous character, portrayed by Anna Magnani, driving three tarted up pigs through the open door of a rural wedding. ‘Carmine and Bride! Here come our brothers!’ is met with Signora Roma’s former pimp, Carmine’s sardonic retort: ‘Sure, brothers of Italy’ (Fratelli d’Italia, the popular title of Italy’s national anthem). 

Magnani had previously starred in Roberto Rossellini’s Roma città aperta (1945) as Pina, a virtuous proletarian and expecting mother, one fated to die at the hands of the Gestapo for sheltering a communist leader of the Italian Resistance.

Anna Magnani, Credit: IMDb

Mamma Roma offers a stark counterpoint to this portrait of proletarian integrity in the face of an occupying force. It does this by immersing itself in the lives of Italy’s post-war sub proletariat, the cafoni of Rome. As opposed to the idea of a free and democratic Rome, Magnani’s character strives to attain a stable petite bourgeoise existence for her teenage son, Ettore. Collected from the Guidonia countryside and taken to sub-urban Rome, the latter progressively accommodates himself to a life of petty crime and scorns the prospect of social advancement. Upon hearing her son voice this disdain whilst on a motorcycle ride, the bike bought in celebration of Ettore’s first day at a job she extorted the upmarket restaurant’s owner for, Signora Roma admonishes him: ‘So now you’re a communist? We won’t get along if you turn into a comrade and hang around those losers.’ 

Ettore’s world contains no prospect of social emancipation— in this way the absence of the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI) is deafening —only learning the strategies for lifting valuables from hospital patients and his initiation into the mysteries of sexuality by means of Bruna, a 24-year-old single mother known to the men of the town, remains. These dual initiations prompt Ettore to frequently, if always partially, disavow his mother and her efforts— powerfully attested to when Ettore steals the records they bonded over upon their arrival in Rome (including the films refrain, O violino tzigano) so as to buy Bruna a token of affection, a gold chain. 

Ettore Garofolo in Mamma Roma

The return of Carmine, dissatisfied with the life of the Guidonian peasantry, finds Mamma Roma once more prostituting herself at night, under threat of exposing her past to her son. Despite Signora Roma’s compliance, Ettore will find out nonetheless by means of Bruna. Disconsolate and feverish, Ettore will get caught attempting to pull the hospital routine with one of his reluctant compatriots, and thus subsequently imprisoned and restrained in a pose redolent of the crucifixion. 

An ode to the abandoned youth of Italy’s underclass

 All the more harrowing in light of his previous disavowals, Ettore dies crying out for his mother: ‘Mamma, why are they doing this to me?’ 

An ode to the abandoned youth of Italy’s underclass, and critiquing an abject condition to be attributed to no outside force, Mamma Roma stands as an early landmark to the genius and foresight of Pasolini: invaluable to us— the sons, daughters, and children of unhappy youths.  

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AUTHOR: H. Jordan
Second Year Philosophy student with an interest in aesthetics, politics, ethics and their intersections.

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