The Hawks and the Sparrows (Pier Paolo Pasolini / Italy, 1966):
(Uccellacci e Uccellini)

Every name is sung in Pier Paolo Pasolini's credits, a joke picked up in Preminger's Skidoo two years later, both are jaunts through cultures pulled every which way by ideological impulses. A scoffing quote from Mao and the road is wide open, with stylized, regally double-taking TotÚ and Ninetto Davoli, his bouncy cretin son, strolling down in search of, if not yet enlightenment, then at least metaphysical slapstick. Youngsters shimmer to Ennio Morricone's rock 'n' roll, though this is Pasolini's Italy -- sullen girls suddenly pop up decked in angelic attire amid the rubble, and the duo finds a traveling companion in a pedantically talking crow, a "left-wing intellectual" born from Signore Doubt and Signora Conscience. Where are they headed? Where's the country headed? The raven spins a medieval tale as pedagogical illustration, TotÚ and Davoli reincarnated as Franciscan disciples whose path to sainthood comes by talking to the animals, specifically the hawks and the sparrows who need to be taught Christian love and solidarity. Fra TotÚ develops the right twitter to communicate with the birds, though not before schrubberry has sprouted all over him from the wait ("Can I rest by your shade," asks his son). A Rossellini spoof, of course, for the road is not just through the conflicting beliefs of contemporary Italy, but also of Italian cinema itself -- the trajectory could be The Bicycle Thief refried, Fellini in the raucous traveling troupe that celebrates New Life with flares, then drives off in a Cadillac. A sort of Marxist Hellzapoppin, politicized vaudeville and skittery poesy, an open structure overflowing with gags and ideas -- the most striking affront to "reality" is Pasolini's breach into his trademark tableaux, via tracking shots, in the bourgeois party where the duo, previously the oppressors, become the oppressed. The passing of Togliatti, glimpsed in documentary inserts, might be a blow to Italian Communism, yet radicalism is still an option to Pasolini, and the raven's words are in the end not as useful to the characters as his flesh, nicely roasted. The road is endless, the last image is cribbed from Chaplin: Modern Times, indeed. With Femi Benussi. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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