The affliction of Accatone, the pietŕs of Mamma Roma, La Ricotta’s astringent vaudeville, all set-up for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s illumination of il Vangelo as a vérité interplay of radicals. The nonbeliever’s paradoxical "nostalgia for faith" exalts quotidian mysteries, the Holy Land is right there on Mediterranean shores, lumpy Basilicata peasants populate the pageantry. Joseph first appears as a paunchy cuckold frowning at his mustached child-bride, Mary’s bulging belly is explained by a tousled-haired angel by the edge of the slums. Sloping rocky mountains give an uncommon view of the Nativity, the Magi’s wordless visit is suffused with Odetta’s sublime moan ("Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child") before Herod’s massacre modifies the timbre. A cut from the sacred toddler in a makeshift toga to John the Baptist in the river introduces Jesus (Enrique Irazoqui) swathed in black, a unibrow like a slash across a high Catalonian forehead. "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." The apostles are fishermen straight out of Stromboli and hunky boys roughhousing with nets, the miracles are purposefully plain cutaways, Pasolini has other fish to fry. How to articulate a subversive manifesto? The Sermon on the Mount is thundering agitprop, virtually a Dziga Vertov Group filibuster, a stubbly face swept up in ferocity while backgrounds shift like Keaton’s hats (Steamboat Bill, Jr.). Pisanello and coarse-grained tapestries, Bach and Missa Luba, everything at once primeval and immediate, "not the God of the dead but of the living." Christ the glowering firebrand is all business until a shower of hosannas from toothless urchins prompts a rare smile, a chiaroscuro close-up later in the woods isolates the prophet in a moment of fear. Salome’s dance is a bashful teenager’s recital before a pouch-eyed aesthete, for the Sanhedrin tribunal the vantage point is that of a news camera squirming from behind robed figures for a clearer glimpse. Crucifixion, resurrection, revolution. "There shall not be left a stone upon another thrown down," a political and cinematic declaration if ever there was one, a vision so supple that it ends on the smile of the weathered Mary, played naturally by the filmmaker’s mother. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce