Eureka Entertainment // 1967 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // September 10th, 2012
"You're here to take my place in the world, send me back into the void, and rob my of all I have."
Oedipus Rex (a.k.a. Edipo Re) is Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1967 interpretation of Sophocles' Greek tragedy, which was first performed in 429 BC. Even those unfamiliar with the play itself will no doubt be aware of the Oedipus Complex, which suggests an inbuilt -- yet unconscious -- desire of a child to kill their father whilst harboring sexual desire towards their mother. This idea, coupled with the play's exploration of free will versus fate, resonate clearly throughout what is the most underappreciated of Pasolini's works.
Oedipus Rex (Blu-ray) (Region B) is the first Blu-ray of Pasolini's film, thanks to Eureka, which is releasing the film in the UK as part of their Masters of Cinema line.
A baby boy is born to a young couple in prewar Italy. Though doted on by his mother, his father -- who is jealous of the love the child receives from his mother -- despises the child. From here, the story shifts to ancient Greece, where the child is taken into the desert where they are abandoned and left to die. Thanks to an act of kindness, the child is rescued by the king and queen of Corinth, who name him Oedipus and raise him as if he were their own.
Years later, Oedipus is a young man plagued by dreams that make him question the life he leads. With the blessing of his parents he visits an Oracle, hoping for an answer. The Oracle informs Oedipus that his fate is far darker than the dreams that trouble him, and that he is destined to slay his father and make love to his mother. Horrified, Oedipus flees Corinth, determined to escape his supposed destiny.
Structurally speaking, Oedipus Rex is perhaps Pasolini's most interesting work. Opening in prewar Italy with the birth of Oedipus, who is instantly despised by his jealous father, the film soon reverts to ancient Greece for the good majority of its running time, before finally shifting to modern-day Bologna for the film's denouement. What could have been a jarring decision is delivered in a remarkably unobtrusive manner, with the story allowed to flow naturally, whilst the jumps are used to suggest the timelessness of the film's themes.
Where Pasolini really succeeds is keeping the viewer invested in his film, even after Oedipus's visit to the oracle around the 30-minute mark gives the game away as to his fate. A large part of this comes from the director sticking closely to the original text, which sees Oedipus go out of his way to escape his fate -- and thus prove that he, and he alone is responsible for his destiny -- only to inadvertently fulfill the prophecy and murder his father and take the hand of his mother. The film's slow pace helps build up the impending tragedy, and is utterly captivating. The other reason to keep watching is the sheer beauty of the film. Visually, this is an absolute triumph, as the largely wordless film delivers one stunning image after another. The Moroccan landscapes provide the perfect canvas for Pasolini's storytelling, and his decision to utilize handheld cameras for the vast majority of the film is a stroke of genius. This decision alone brings a great deal energy to the production, and ensures it never feels like an overly stuffy historical epic.
Occasionally, Oedipus Rex is guilty of being a touch overstated, with the final act in particular containing a few overblown speeches and examples overacting. For the most part, however, the film -- and it's largely impressive cast -- show a good deal of restraint. Franco Citti is excellent in the role of Oedipus. There's a wonderful (or should that be awful) moment where, having made love to his wife, Oedipus realizes that she is, in fact, his mother. As the truth washes over him, Citti rejects any desire to overplay the scene and simply allows his eyes to portray the horror of his situation. That such subtlety gives way to unnecessary theatrics soon afterward is a great shame.
Eureka is releasing Oedipus Rex in both a dual-format edition, and a standalone DVD release. The Blu-ray version of the film, which comes as part of the dual-format edition, features an extremely pleasing 1080p transfer. What first grabs you about the picture is the abundance and vibrancy of colors. Though a few scenes suffer from a little softness, the vast majority of the film is razor sharp, packing in a huge amount of detail. An early scene set in the desert highlights the quality of the transfer as individual grains of sand clearly distinguishable. There is a layer of grain evident throughout, more so in the few darker scenes, but this never becomes problematic. The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack features clear dialogue -- all in Italian, of course -- with optional English subtitles. The film's score is minimalist, to say the least, with only a repetitive tune played on a flute and a few bursts from the percussion to occasionally liven things up. Though Eureka's retail copy of Oedipus Rex will come with a twenty-four-page booklet, containing excerpts from an interview with Pasolini and archival imagery, no special features are to be included on the disc, bar the film's theatrical trailer.
Having been released in-between Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty, two Pasolini films I absolutely detest, Oedipus Rex didn't come with high expectations. However -- thanks partially to some undoubtedly bold decisions, and partly due to the more human touch Pasolini gives the film -- this is a return to the quality filmmaking of The Gospel According to Matthew.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (Italian)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* DVD Copy