Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1965
Starring: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Ungaretti
In 1963, Pasolini directed his first documentary, La rabbia, a political examination of what is wrong with the postwar world. While it’s a worthwhile experiment, I can’t help but prefer this follow up, which I think shows Pasolini at his most endearing. He hit the streets and interviewed dozens of citizens all over Italy about their views on sex, marriage, love, divorce, prostitution, homosexuality, and related topics. Pasolini himself appears in crowds of curious onlookers to calmly ask a series of relatively controversial questions. He prods where necessary — asking further questions, confronting contradictions, or seeking clarification about the answers he receives — but is never openly judgmental about the quite varied responses.
He is, however, judgmental when he leaves the crowds. These interviews are contrasted with some brief analytic discussions between Pasolini and his friends, Italian intellectuals like Alberto Moravia (novelist and writer of The Conformist, which Pasolini’s protege and frequent assistant director Bernardo Bertolucci would soon adapt), psychologist Cesare Musatti, and poet Giuseppe Ungaretti. I can’t help but wonder if Pasolini began with his conclusions or came to them gradually over the course of the interviews. Love Meetings essentially expresses the belief that Italy in general is made up of conservatives and people who are ignorant, have a strong desire to stay that way, and who don’t want to see any change in their country.
Pasolini’s interview subjects represent a wide range of Italian citizens — young, old, soldiers, prostitutes, middle class, poor, conservative, and more liberal — though it seems he was limited by who he found in open public squares, which are by and large the primary settings for the different interviews. Primarily younger people are willing to speak with him and it certainly feels like many Italian voices are absent, though he was obviously going for the mood of the general public. Because he’s conducting the interviews in public, in crowds, and on film, it’s not only about what Italians think of sex, but what they think they’re allowed to say in front of their peers. Conformity is a major theme.
The subjugation of women is another common topic and he asks a number of men and women — including girls, young ladies, mothers, and older women — what they think of the country’s treatment of women. Most seem to agree that men are given more freedom and many express the opinion that that’s the way it should be. Italy’s famous divide between virgin, mother, whore is discussed, with some of the younger women admitting that they want the same sexual freedom men have. Divorce is another important element of this theme. While some younger people admit that divorce is a necessary right that allows couples that don’t get along to separate, others think it would allow women to do whatever they want and that murder and violence is preferable to this loss of feminine honor — a truly appalling moment.
“The problem of sex” is frequently discussed but never defined, leaving things a bit murky for much of the proceedings. In part of the interviews, it seems to be perversion or homosexuality and these latter scenes where he asks about homosexuality are painful. Totally unaware that their interviewer is gay, people give responses ranging from sympathy to revulsion. Obviously Pasolini confronted these issues every day — and it didn’t stop him from living his life as mostly un-closeted — but it would have been interesting to see his face during this segment of the documentary. He also asks a number of young couples if they think marriage will solve sexual “problems,” which I assume to mean the desire for sex outside of love. Many of them say yes, though a fair number acknowledge that sex is independent of love or marriage.
Despite the more frustrating elements, such as blatant prejudice and misogyny, a rampant lack of sexual education, and the mass desire to remain silent, the subjects of Love Meetings are also frequently warm and humorous. Pasolini is particularly sweet with the children in the opening scenes; he asks them where babies come from and the responses are hilarious. He also gets some surprising answers from an army squadron, who he asks about Italian machismo. Male sexuality is often discussed as being negative — bestial and unwholesome — but inevitable, which is why prostitution and other sex work is necessary.
Overall Love Meetings is a fascinating 90-minutes that flies by. Pick up the DVD from Water Bearer films and I think you’ll be shocked how relevant the documentary remains. It’s oddly similar to recent Youtube short films and news segments asking citizens (often children) about such sexual subjects as gay marriage and transgendered people. It’s also a fascinating contrast to Kinsey’s report, as his interviews were all held in private and the subjects remained anonymous, while Pasolini is equally as concerned with individual and group responses. There are a number of scenes where subjects censor themselves by muting out a sentence or two of their responses, presumably after Pasolini completed the film, and it would be fascinating to have these scenes restored.