| January 1, 2017

Like all of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work, Accattone is more pensive than entertaining. The film is a cryptic moral tale about a hardboiled pimp, meant to subtly resemble Christ, who faces trials and tribulations in Rome’s poor slums. While this could be ostensibly pleasing, Pasolini seeks to convey, again through murky allusion, the current state of Italy and Italian life. Despite these complications, Accattone is a moody debut that functions as a key for the rest of the director’s compelling filmography.

As mentioned, Accattone is a pimp living in the poor slums outside of Rome. Though a father, he rarely sees his children due to a somewhat violent estrangement from the mother. Accattone instead prefers to spend time lounging about with friends, committing fantastic feats (like jumping off bridges) and advising his live-in prostitute girlfriend Magdelena how to do her job. Yet when Magdelena gets caught by police, Accattone finds himself without a warm bed every evening and, worse, his economic crutch. That is until he meets Stella. Different in almost every way from Magdelena, Stella might provide the support for Accattone to embrace a legitimate way of life. Yet, amongst the shady depths of the Roman suburbs, old habits die hard.

Accattone translates to “deadbeat” or “loser” in Italian. Franco Citti, as evident by his BAFTA nomination for the role, wholly embodies this definition. Set amongst the decaying Italian slums – intentionally juxtaposed against new ascending Roman skyscrapers – Accattone the character is emblematic of the lower-class Italian stereotype that, like the rest of Italy, was being replaced by homogenized Western thought. This imported view of the world was alien to the Italian mind in Pasolini’s view. As reveled in his many interviews and novels, the writer/director believed (possibly hoped) that Italian slum life would persist despite the then bolstering economic recovery of the 1960’s. In fact, these swarthy vestiges of Italian life work in opposition to the so-called social and culture advancement(i.e. commercialism) in the film. When Accattone attempts an ‘honest’ living like his brother, he proves physically unable to conform to the labor demanded by the new 8-hour work day. Worse, when Stella manages to achieve honest work after her parents’ sacrifices in the black market, Accattone illuminates the ‘virtues’ of slum life.

Despite using Accattone as a remnant of pre-industrial Italian character, Pasolini does not condone slum life. Rather the figure of Accattone is meant to act as a moral lesson. As observed by Peter Bondanella, a “reverse Christ” during Accatone’s conclusion. Yet the lesson is not meant for those of the lower order. Rather, Pasolini takes aim at Italians filling the new Roman skyscapers with a love for mass produced society. Thus viewers are asked to closely examine why those living an admittedly degenerate life in the slums hold on to their identity.

While acclaim was given to the film, many believed it was obvious the notable poet/writer Pasolini was untrained in the craft of filmmaking. Irreverent cinematography, peculiar usage of soundtrack, and the use of nonprofessional actors isolate the film from traditional Hollywood and even the then-popular Neorealism narrative seen in Fellini and others. As Gino Moliterno notes at Sense of Cinema, it is obvious Pasolini was more accustomed to his Art History education, evident in instances like the “frontal” positioning of characters…[that appear] similar to Masaccio’s fresco at the Brancacci chapel.” However this unique and individual style – especially relative to encroaching Western influence – is a thematic experience that would continue throughout the rest of Pasolini’s career.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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