Caravaggio director Derek Jarman famously quipped that if the painter had been reincarnated in the twentieth century, he would have been Pier Paolo Pasolini. A prolific firebrand, Pasolini not only carved a singular path in the history of Italian cinema, he was also a vociferous critic not just of Italy’s lingering Fascist residue but, more broadly, of the country’s bourgeois mores. Like Caravaggio, Pasolini drew from the proletarian ranks for his casting, preferring to source his actors from the periphery of Italian society.
A painter, poet and novelist, Pasolini set Mamma Roma, his second film, amid the Eternal City’s torpid underbelly. Volcanic Anna Magnani stars in the title role as a prostitute risen from the lower depths to reclaim her son Ettore (whom Pasolini discovered waiting tables and thought looked “just like a Caravaggio figure”) after years away. But when one of her former petty-crook beaus resurfaces, Magnani faces jettisoning her hard-won stability. A neo-realist street opera that potently blends grandiloquence and grit, Mamma Roma was attacked by both the Right and Left in Italy and was even momentarily banned. It was largely unseen in the U.S. until it was finally distributed here in 1995, three decades after its initial Italian release.
“Certainly one of the four or five best roles of [Magnani’s] career . . . Mamma Roma begins with a wedding and ends with a kind of crucifixion and pieta. And, in between, it shows us a modern urban landscape and fresco of startling beauty and harshness, of poetry and despair, populated by a sordid but magnetic gallery of pimps, hookers, johns, petty thieves and callous officials . . . a shattering voyage.”—Michael Wilmington
Bing Theater | $10 for the general public; $7 for LACMA members, seniors (62+), and students with valid ID; $5 LACMA Film Club members. | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.