Pasolini. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Why is he fascinating? Like other Italian intellectuals–or politicians–who you might put behind a podium or in front of a camera he is able to talk up a storm. (BTW: Italian politicians are known to go on for half days rather than hours). Theories. Politics. Right and wrong. Peasant values. Life. Religion. Police…He embodies what we are missing in the 2000s–a respected thinker. Instead we have celebrities who say little about the fabric of life but who are oft quoted on their food intake and love life. Much has changed in 40 years.
Along with being a prolific writer and a public intellectual, Pasolini was a mystic marxist catholic and atheist. The juxtaposition of all these elements, along with a keen intelligence and need to expose alternative sexuality and institutional hypocrisy, saturate his work.
Perhaps being a mystic was most important to him. In interviews he repeatedly spoke up for the need to deliver a mythological element to film. Back to Greek logos and mythos: logos gets too much air time.
Uccelacci and Uccellini embraces the complexity of Pasolini; completely pasoliniesque it is, in fact, a film that he has gone on record saying was his favorite. It is a comedy. It is a satire. It is a modern story that looks back on medieval times to gather momentum. It is an urban/rural clash story. It is a road-of-life story; a circular story. In the interview that accompanied the DVD, Pasolini said “I like to leave stories open…I choose everything.” Mostly Uccelacci and Uccellini is a father-son myth: nothing upsets the sacredness of the relationship, not women, not money, not religion.
In many interviews during his career, Pasolini confessed his dislike for his father. He said his relationship with his father ended when he was three years old. Pasolini didn’t believe in family, calling it an outdated institution.
Pasolini’s father, a lieutenant in the Italian Army, was a descendant of an ancient ancient noble family of Romagna; his mother from a family of Fruilian farmers. Throughout his life, Pasolini remained close and friendly with his mother. The father was also a gambler. Because of his work, the family moved from town to town in Northern Italy. Pasolini never set down roots. He was born in 1922 and was the eldest son.
“Every evening I dreaded dinner time, because I knew that he would have done one of his scenes… Then came my initial separation from my mother which created a childhood neurosis. That neurosis made me restless, a restlessness in which I perpetually questioned my own being (…). When my mother was going to bear, I began to suffer from burning eyes. My father immobilized me on the table of the kitchen, opened my eyes with his fingers and poured in collyrium. After that symbolic event I was no longer able to love my father.” ( from Interview with Dacia Maraini in “Vogue”, May 1971. )
Uccelacci and Uccellini can be read a reenactment of an ideal father-son relationship. A relationship that is gentle, fun, and accepting.
The film is set somewhere on the outskirts of Rome (another weakness of mine–films and books set in Rome. Check my other BLOG entries). We see poverty, dry fields, run down farmhouses. Outside what today we would call “the corner store” a handful of terminally-teenage boys practice line dancing to loud radio music. In the distance is a tower: phallic symbol alerts us to male theme of the movie. The teenage boys miss the bus into the city: meaning even though they prepared themselves to fit in and to find girls, they are doomed to be stuck out in the boonies, living peasant lives. They are hungry for food, life, women, enlightenment, and answers to the riddle of life. And what Pasolini is saying–if we go forward with the father-son reading–is that the mysteries of life can be passed on from father to son; the son need not go into the city, into modern time.
After their fate as outsiders is established, one of the teenage boys–the young and naive son (Nino Davoli)–and his father (Italian clown Toto)set off on an endless journey on the road of life. They are joined by a talking crow, meet St. Francis and are catapulted back to medieval time to spend a year praying for the conversion of hawks and sparrows. Toto learns the hawk’s language and in a hilarious scene dances and speaks to the birds, preaching that God’s love is the answer. “The answer to our hunger?” the birds ask.
Birds? Some were born to kill and to eat the others and there is not much to be changed about it. After Toto converts the sparrows, the hawks sweep down and kill a sparrow, taking its innards, leaving the wings and feet.
Father and son magically return to the present time and watch a baby girl being born, go to a funeral (pious documentary footage of the 1964 funeral of Italian communist boss Palmiro Togliatti), collect rent from impoverished farmers, and meet up with a beautiful prostitute who takes the son into the field to make love.
The affectionate father-son journey ends where it began. On the road of life. Nothing pulls them apart, except, perhaps, for a median strip of grass between two roads headed the same direction.
As for the talking crow? As soon as the crow says “I am only human..” the father decides he and his son should eat it. “If we don’t eat him someone else will,” the father explains. Love comes and goes but everyone has to eat .
Father and son eat the crow like the Romans of old: roasted , in a bowl with figs. What remains in the fire are the crow’s feet and wings. Burnt offerings. In life, to get where you want to go, you can choose to walk or fly but the internal life is always the same: devoured by bigger birds. If there is a lesson the father teaches the son, that is the lesson. We can speculate that Pasolini’s father might have not taught him that lesson.
“Takers and fakers and talkers won’t tell you. Teachers and preachers will just buy and sell you. When no one can tempt you with heaven or hell- You’ll be a lucky man!” says the bird.
Uccelacci and Uccellini translates from Italian to The Bad Birds and Little Birds. In English the title changed to The Hawks and the Sparrow.
Uccelacci and Uccellini (1966) 1 hour 28 minutes.
Directors: Pier Paolo Pasolini
DVD Release date
May 14, 2007
NOT TO BE MISSED: THE MOVIE’S OPENING AND ENDING CREDITS. Ennio Morricone’s theme music comically features “singing” movie’s credits in mock-operatic fashion.