Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giovanni Guareschi, 1963
Starring: Giorgio Bassani, Renato Guttuso, Gigi Artuso
Pasolini’s first documentary is this fascinating project, La rabbia, or Rage, which is a two-part essay on modern life, split with his political opposite, Giovanni Guareschi. Pasolini was known to be a controversial leftist and Marxist, expelled from the Communist Party and demonized because of his homosexuality. He regularly lambasted the Church, though his most frequent target was capitalism and its effects in the post-Industrial Revolution, which he saw as exploitative and incredibly destructive. He glorified the past, rural life, and the working poor, all of which beliefs are reflected in La rabbia, though this is an interesting look at his thoughts on other countries and cultures.
Pasolini’s views are contrasted with those of Guareschi, known to be equally controversial and brilliant in their day, though obviously outside of Italy, Pasolini is remembered while Guareschi is not. A journalist, cartoonist, and satirist by trade, his two enduring creations are characters in an ongoing series of stories: Don Camillo, a hard-headed priest (based on a real-life partisan who was imprisoned in concentration camps), and Peppone, an equally hard-headed Communist mayor in a rural town in northern Italy. Like Pasolini, Guareschi was frequently set apart from those in the right wing that shared his political beliefs, so he’s something of a fitting counterweight to Pasolini.
Conceived by producer Gastone Ferranti, who worked with Pasolini from Accattone and the early days of his career, the two intellectuals attempt to answer why human life is full of discontent, anguish, and fear. Both directors rely on footage from WWII to the ‘60s, including shots of revolution, murder, regal coronations, war, beauty pageants, and protests. A mix of cartoons and still photographs are included, though it is mostly a fascinating collection of newsreels and older archival footage, which includes clips of everyone from Charles de Gaulle and Eisenhower to Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, and several popes. One of my biggest disappointments is that you don’t hear directly from Pasolini (whose speaking voice I love) or Guareschi; their words are read by narrators. Painter Renato Guttuso and writer Giorgio Bassani (The Garden of the Finzi Continis) read Pasolini’s responses, while Gigi Artuso, and Carlo Romano are responsible for Guareschi’s half.
Pasolini’s responses are a mixture of social commentary and poetry and are pretty typical for anyone who knows his political leanings. He explains how capitalism (and American democracy) is the world’s true villain, because it inherently subjugates all civilizations and peoples. His section is actually incredibly nihilistic and depressing and — as many of his works — remains relevant today. He discusses revolution, the glorification of peasant culture and the pre-Industrial past, and Marilyn Monroe’s death and the disappearance of beauty, among many other things. Much is made of racial conflicts, refugees, prison camps, and if you feel removed from the bulk of the 20th century, this is definitely worth watching. Pasolini occasionally slips into the pedantic, but this is a nice visual look at some of his philosophical and critic writing.
Guareschi’s section is more hopeful, but far more problematic. Some of Guareschi’s observations were fascinating, particularly idea that the world is doomed because of the foundations built at the end of WWII. He remarks that new countries and cultures were built on revenge and describes it as an evil that while the Nazis were punished and many executed, the perpetrators of Katyn (a stand-in for Soviet atrocities in general) and the two atomic bomb drops in Hiroshima and Nagasaki sat on the judges’ benches. This is perhaps an obvious observation, but one I’ve never thought of quite in those terms (and I’ve been writing a lot about WWII in the last year, thanks to the book I’m working on). In hindsight, it’s easy to see the villains and victors of the war, but I think this insight of Guareschi’s is a reminder that it’s worthwhile to view things from a different perspective.
Ultimately, both arguments are flawed — Pasolini is worshipping at the altar of Marxism, while Guareschi on one hand abhors the actions during WWII but then justifies later atrocities against Algeria, as well as the Vietnam war. Overall though, I think the concept of La rabbia is a brilliant one and is something we could desperately use now, in a time (at least in the US) where the left and right will likely need another world war to even have a civil conversation. The film’s production history is also fascinating, Pasolini’s section was cut from 100 minutes to about 50 minutes in order to make more room for Guareschi. In 2008, Giuseppe Bertolucci (the brother of Pasolini’s protege Bernardo and also a filmmaker in his own right) spearheaded the restoration project. This version premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, though I’m not sure it’s available for home viewing.
The best way to see La rabbia is through Raro Video’s special edition DVD release. I sing their praises pretty frequently on this blog, but they’ve done a fantastic job with this release. Put out in 2011, it includes trailers, Pasolini’s short film The Walls of Sana’a, and a wonderful feature length documentary on La rabbia that explains the different versions of the film and includes some great insight on Pasolini and Guareschi from their close collaborators. Guareschi’s segment, which had all but disappeared in the decades after the film’s release, does suffer from racism and dates the film pretty solidly, but it’s fascinating to see the two pieces side by side. Nothing like this is really produced today, but in a way I’d love to see a similar experiment as a series of brilliant Youtube videos. The idea of collecting and curating historical content and providing context and commentary is a dying art, but an important one, and I think the only person who does anything like this is Zizek. Pasolini, as always, was ahead of his time.