Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Pier Paolo Pasolini | Teorema (Theorem)


an unexpected visitor

Pier Paolo Pasolini (screenplay and director) Teorema (Theorem) / 1968

       It is somewhat interesting to compare Pasolini’s tale of a family with George’s Steven’s 1953 family visited suddenly by a stranger. If in Stevens’ tale the family is at the center of life, crucial for the survival of his pioneers, the Italian director’s utterly bourgeois family life has delimited and thwarted the desires and personalities of its members.

       As in Shane, the “visitor” (Terence Stamp) seems to come out of nowhere. But in Pasolini’s work he is proceeded by a kind of comic angel, an arm-flapping postman (the same bird-flapping figure from Pasolini’s previous The Hawks and the Sparrows, with Ninetto Davoli) bringing the family a note of the Visitor’s arrival. The family accepts him readily, almost as if they were expecting him, and are delighted by the handsome “boy’s” appearance. Pasolini’s camera almost makes love to him, zooming into his crotch time and again. And almost before anyone can get their bearings, the angelic visitor saves their suicidal maid (Laura Betti) and beds her.
      As other guests arrive at the villa, the family’s son (Andres Jose Cruz Soublette) must bed down with the stranger in his childhood bedroom. Unable to sleep with the beautiful being lying in the very next bed, the son, almost like Joey in Shane, can hardly keep his eyes of him, attempting to view his naked body as the Visitor appears to sleep. When the Visitor suddenly opens his eyes, the son goes scrambling back into his own bed, pleading “excuse me, excuse me!” The Visitor joins the young boy in his bed, comforting him and, presumably, engaging in sex.

     Observing the stranger’s pants and underwear laid out on couch, the bourgeois mother of this brood (Silvano Mangano) undresses and lies down out on the balcony to await the return of the visitor, momentarily at play with their dog. She too gets what she seeks.
       Their daughter (Anne Wiazemsky) is the next to seek his charms and is finally awakened in the process to her own sexuality.
       When the father (Massimo Girotti) cannot sleep because of his daily pains, he rises early and on his return the bedroom cannot resist opening the door to his son’s bedroom only to witness the two sleeping together in the same bed. Even the vision of their coupling sends him into a psychological tizzy, returning to his wife and requesting, despite the fact that she is still sleeping, sex, which she refuses at that early hour. Ill in bed the next day, the Husband is also visited by the angelic beauty, who carefully brings the older man’s legs to his shoulders, peering down upon his with his lovely blue eyes. The father almost immediately feels better and is cured. The next day the two go on a drive before turning off into an empty field were they, too, have sex, the father suddenly abandoning all he has previously believed about his own sexuality.
       Soon after the Visitor has provided each of these insular individuals the love they apparently needed; the angel-postman returns to announce the Visitor’s departure. And over the few hours each of the family members reveal to the stranger how he has utterly changed them.
       The “theorem” of Pasolini’s title has been, clearly, that love changes everything; but how it changes each of them remains the subject of the second half of the director’s film.
        As I have already suggested, unlike in Shane, the stranger’s presence does not bring the father even closer, but frees them to leave family life, some for better and others for worse, depending upon their own abilities or inabilities to face the past, present, and future.
        The Maid, the most backward looking of the group, returns to her rustic peasant village where she sits on a bench, eating only nettles, before accomplishing several miracles (curing a young child’s facial disfigurations and hovering in the air over one of the village buildings) before burying herself.
        The Daughter—who now claims she has nothing to look forward too since the very best thing has happened to her has been the Visitor’s encounter with her in the past—becomes catatonic and his carried off to an institution, clearly having no further reason to live.
        The Son, now completely involved in the present, becomes a painter, trying again and again to create abstract paintings on glass that reflect his experience with the Visitor, hoping to reflect the radical nature and power of his experience.
     The mother, freed from her near-frigid and meaningless bourgeois life, drives off to seek sex with handsome young men, apparently, having sex with two pick-ups in the same day.

       The Husband, completely transformed by his sexual revelation, seems to be the only one who entirely embraces a future. Giving away his large factory to his employees, he catches the eye of a young good-looking man before stripping off his clothes in the middle of a train station, and, metaphorically speaking, voyages into a lava desert, a new world in which he cannot imagine what he might find and in which may not even survive.
          The dissolution of the family brings these individuals similar pleasures to Shane’s removal of the threats to family life in the Hollywood work.
         
Los Angeles, June 8, 2016
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (June 2016).

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