Eureka Entertainment // 1960 // 117 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // March 15th, 2012
"When you need it, any job it good."
Pier Paolo Pasolini is most famed for his final film, Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, a film that is reviled and revered in equal measure. Such is the level of notoriety achieved that it manages to cast a huge shadow over Pasolini's other works.
Of course, those familiar with the films of Pasolini will rightly argue that, regardless of your personal take on Salo, his is a filmography to be proud of. Accattone, Pasolini's directorial debut (which adapts his own novel Una Vita Violenta), proves he was firing on all cylinders right from the start.
Vittorio (Franco Citti), nicknamed Accattone (meaning beggar) by his friends, is a small-time pimp living in the slums on the outskirts of Rome. Barely making a living and estranged from his child, Accattone finds his situation deteriorating further when his sole prostitute, Maddalena (Silvana Corsini), is left unable to work following a beating at the hands of his rivals. Reluctant to try his hand at earning an honest day's pay, Accattone attempts to draw the naive Stella (Franca Pasut) into the world of prostitution, but finds himself plagued by visions of his own demise.
There's little romanticism to be found in Pasolini's look at those surviving below the breadline in 1960s Rome. Instead, Accattone presents a gritty look at a world full of men who have never worked a day in their lives, women who prostitute themselves to put food on the table, and children with little hope of ever escaping poverty.
What's highly evident from early on is Pasolini's interest in how the inability to provide for their families is so emasculating to men. To this end, the male characters are seen to put greater stock in their physical attributes -- at least in public -- and are frequently getting into fights or boasting about their mistreatment of women. Their bravado, however, is often revealed to be a front, and a way of disguising what they see as their own shortcomings. Their conversations prove fascinating, especially their dark sense of humor. Scenes that would in another director's hands prove touching, such as those where Accattone and his friends are invited to share a meal with similarly impoverished folk, are instead full of bitterness and resentment as the idea of receiving (and indeed giving) charity to one's neighbor causes more tension and arguments.
One of the most powerful sequences in Accattone comes when, in an attempt to impress a woman, Accattone steals from his own son to buy her a new pair of shoes. The sequence is notable for a number of reasons. The most immediately striking part comes when, before stealing from his estranged son, Accattone watches the child play; too poor to afford any real toys, the boy throws stones at a row of glass bottles he has lined up in the street. Seemingly loathing himself, both for his inability to afford his child -- who barely recognizes him -- a better life and for the heinous crime he is about to commit, Accattone dejectedly remarks, "Forgive me, I am a bum." Making matters worse is that we soon discover his attempts to woo the young woman are in fact a ruse to get her to prostitute herself for his own financial gain.
Pasolini presents his characters, but refuses to pass judgment on them, instead leaving the viewers to make up their own minds. Although we frequently find Accattone reflecting on his actions -- even questioning them on occasion -- he is either too set in his ways or ignorant to even attempt to find an honest day's pay. Whether that makes him a bad person, or simply weak, is left entirely at the viewer's discretion.
As was typical for Pasolini, his cast is made up of non-professional actors, though one would be hard-pressed to notice. Leading man Franco Citti delivers a remarkable performance, in what is a complex role. Living simply to survive, Accattone lacks the willpower to even make an attempt at bettering himself, yet unquestionably feels guilty for his crimes and remorse over his failures as a father. The rest of the cast does well to match Citti, with Franca Pasut bringing a vulnerability to the role of Stella that only enhances her tragic trajectory further.
Eureka's Region B Blu-ray release presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Though there is the occasional instance of softness, the 1080p transfer is highly impressive. Detail levels are good, with few instances of damage. Black levels are solid, and the picture remains sharp for the most part. The mono soundtrack is understandably flat, yet both dialogue and the film's score are perfectly clear.
The screener sent for review featured just one special feature, but it is one that will no doubt delight fans of Pasolini's work. Comizi D'Amore sees Pasolini interviewing everyday Italians, including children, on their views and attitudes towards sex. The documentary opens with the director asking groups of young boys where babies come from, which results in a wide range of (often amusing, sometimes touching) answers. As the film progresses it encompasses more complex issues, tackling sexual inequality and the contrasting views on sex held by those in rural and urban parts of Italy.
Accattone is undoubtedly grim viewing, as it depicts a life with little room for sentiment. That said, the rawness of the film is still palpable over half a decade since its release, while its examination of those living in poverty makes it highly relevant today. Highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 117 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Film