• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:January 6, 2021

Mamma Roma: Neorealism 2.0

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film was no big surprise to anyone who knew the Marxist poet and writer. His first one, Accattone (1961), was also set among the working class in Rome, specifically people of ill repute, thieves and whores. Amateurs were used in the cast and the style was decidedly neorealistic, even though Pasolini did not like to be compared to the films that came out of Italy right after World War II.

Both Accattone and Mamma Roma depict society and religious values in a grim and disrespectful way, although it is hardly discernible by today’s standards (and especially compared to the kind of outrageously shocking movies Pasolini made a few years later). But one difference is that Mamma Roma is more upbeat in tone than Accattone. Well, up to a certain point, this is after all a tragedy.

Living in a squalid part of Rome
We are introduced to Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani) and her teenage son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo) who live in a squalid part of Rome. She has a vegetable stand and does everything she can to make sure that her son gets the best possible start in life. But she hasn’t told him that she’s also a prostitute. She’s trying to escape that part of her life, and intends to retire, but there are obstacles. Eventually, Ettore, who’s fallen in love with a girl, learns the truth about his mother and his life takes a darker turn…

Occasionally moralizing
It’s a simple, occasionally sentimental and moralizing tale that still offers a gripping mother-son relationship. A huge reason is obviously the two lead performances. Magnani was a big star, fondly remembered from one of the neorealist masterpieces, Open City (1945), and Pasolini reportedly found it difficult to get her to fully collaborate with him on his vision as a filmmaker. Still, he accepted her independence, and it’s impossible to imagine the character played by anyone else. Magnani commands virtually every scene she’s in as the larger-than-life matron, almost to the point now after so many movies with colorful Italian matrons that some modern viewers might think she’s a little… too much? The first time we meet her is at a wedding where she’s the life of the party, laughing, singing and carrying on. It’s a no-holds-barred emotional performance; after a while, we accept Mamma Roma and resign to her unconditional love for her son. Garofolo is also very good as Ettore, a surly teenager who has a dark side that is encouraged by other kids.

Pasolini and his ace cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli find a convincing sense of realism in the locations and cast (some of which also appeared in Accattone), but they also cleverly stage a few scenes as homages to religious paintings. You can spot da Vinci’s ”The Last Supper” and especially near the end a memorable recreation of Mantegna’s ”Lamentation over the Dead Christ”, with the camera tracking Ettore the same way Mantegna depicts Jesus in the painting.

Pasolini’s views may differ from those of Roberto Rossellini as expressed in Open City, most notably in the way that Pasolini depicts a more corrupt state and challenges the morals of the church. But a film like this and Open City still share themes and artistic expression in many ways. It’s natural to view Pasolini’s style at this time as Neorealism 2.0. 

Mamma Roma 1962-Italy. 110 min. B/W. Produced by Alfredo Bini. Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli. Cast: Anna Magnani (Mamma Roma), Ettore Garofolo (Ettore), Franco Citti (Carmine), Silvana Corsini, Luisa Orioli, Paolo Volponi.

Last word: “Ettore Garofolo of ‘Mamma Roma’ – I saw him once in a bar where he was working as a waiter. I wrote my whole script around him without speaking to him further. Because I preferred not to know him. I took him and began to shoot after having seen him for just that one minute. I don’t like to make an organized and calculated effort to know someone. If you can intuit a person, you know him already.” (Pasolini, Film Comment)



What do you think?

0 / 5. Vote count: 0

Got something to say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.