Thursday, August 13, 2015


Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ugo Gregoretti, 1963
Starring: Orson Welles, Laura Betti, Rosanna Schiaffino, Gianrico Tedeschi, Ugo Tognazzi, Edmonda Aldini

Also known as RoGoPaG, this art hours anthology film is named after the abbreviated names of its directors: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pasolini, and Ugo Gregoretti. With the catch phrase, “Let’s Wash Our Brains,” this satirical, political exercise combines one established director — Rossellini — with the three newcomers. It’s an interesting slice of the early ‘60s and also has some excellent moments of comedy, even if it is flawed at times and has some troubling sexual politics. Pasolini’s film, one of the longest entries in the anthology, is the crown jewel of the piece and remains the reason that Ro.Go.Pa.G. is still relevant.

Roberto Rossellini’s Illibatezza
Rossellini’s Chastity follows an attractive flight attendant (played by the producer’s wife, Rosanna Schiaffino), who receives some annoying attention from a male passenger when they both land in Bangkok. She makes 8mm videos for her fiancé in her spare time and tries to escape the passenger’s attention, though he follows her everywhere. She gives herself a blonde bimbo makeover and adopts a new, sexually aggressive persona, which gets rid of him in the end. While the sex comedy would become a staple of Italian cinema and many of Rossellini’s earlier films have (at least implied) sexual content, seeing an erotic farce by way of the master of neorealism is jarring at best and flagrantly misogynistic at worst.

It’s standard fare to imagine someone (of course it’s a drunk American here) harassing a beautiful stewardess, Rossellini sort of contradicts himself. The man throws himself at Anna, the stewardess, drunkenly groping her and even trying to rape her. When she wears more provocative clothing, dyes her hair blonde, and comes on to him, he disgustedly calls himself a fool and her a whore and rapidly falls out of love with her. What? Anna’s need to film everything (which she ships to her boyfriend who then watches them back home) could have been a fascinating addition to this tale, but feel like a wasted opportunity.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Il nuovo mondo
Godard’s The New World is the only segment made by a Frenchman and is perhaps fittingly set in Paris. A young married couple tries to adjust to life after the explosion of an atomic bomb over Paris. Though there is no noticeable physical damage, the citizens, including the young wife, Alexandra, begin to act strangely and a riff appears in the once happy marriage. Sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) by way of Godard, I really enjoyed this sci-fi twist on the French New Wave, but I’m sure a lot of viewers will find it pretentious. 

The husband (Jean-Marc Bory) spends a lot of time alone in hotel rooms talking to himself, brooding gallicly, and copying down his disturbing observations in a notebook. This is a pleasant reminder of Godard’s dystopian sci-fi triumph Alphaville (1965), which followed a few years later. And like almost all of Godard’s films from that period, the central dramatic tension in Il nuovo mondo is a disintegrating relationship between a man and a woman — a topic he would revisit more profoundly the same year with Le mepris aka Contempt

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta
Ricotta is easily the centerpiece of this film and was so controversial that Pasolini was taken to court for his troubles. This hilarious, irreverent work is perhaps the culmination of what Pasolini meant when he said that cinema is a language in and of itself. Here he follows a filmmaker (brilliantly played by Orson Welles; I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for their conversations), who is directing a movie about the crucifixion. Pasolini focuses on one of the bit players, a man playing a thief who will hang on one of the crosses next to Christ, and his struggles with food. He gives his daily rations to his family and steals a second helping. A dog eats this while he’s filming a scene, so he sells the dog to buy himself a huge helping of ricotta cheese and bread. He gorges himself and then dies — while again filming up on the cross.

Pasolini cleverly mocks so many things in such a short amount of time, including himself. He makes fun of his use of classical art as a way to set up shots, and his Marxism; the director calls a reporter a conformist and read from a book version of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma. Deftly capturing both the grotesque and carnivalesque in a way not seen in his previous films (Accattone and Mamma Roma) the film switches back and forth between black and white and color — the latter when the film within a film is in action — and has an almost inappropriately jazzy score. There are some very “Yakkity Sax”-like fast-paced moments that I couldn’t help laughing at where Stracci runs down the road to a sped-up harpsichord ditty. But Pasolini also reminds us that we’re laughing at the expense of a starving man desperate to find food after providing for his family.

As all of Pasolini’s early works, this film examines Italian’s disenfranchised, poor urban and rural populations. Through the character of Stracci (Mario Cipriani), he mocks the exploitative nature of both capitalism and religion. As it would again appear in his later films, food becomes emblematic of humanity — in particular, the ill effects of human suffering and human greed. Stracci basically dies of a stomach ache when he has consumed too much bread and cheese and, like the male protagonists of Accattone and Mamma Roma, he becomes something of a martyr, tied to a literal cross. This is a fascinating bridge between the controversial street drama of Accattone and the mythic, sacred subject matter of one of his immediate follow up films, The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964).

Ugo Gregoretti’s Il pollo ruspante
Ugo Gregoretti’s Free Range Chicken is the least of the shorts, primarily because it’s the least subtle. This too literal satire about the evils of capitalism looks particularly awkward after Pasolini’s masterpiece. It contrasts the spending addiction of a bourgeois family — who are suckered into buying a house, toys, an unnecessarily large meal — while a professor with a robot-like voice lectures about how capitalism is ultimately an exploitative system. After their numerous purchases and silly social posturing meant to make them look impressive to complete strangers, they die in a car crash. 

Director Ugo Gregoretti’s name is almost completely unknown to modern audiences. Though he made a few feature-length films and returned to the anthology medium (with Godard, Claude Chabrol, Roman Polanski, and Hiromichi Horikawa) for The World’s Most Beautiful Swindlers (1964), he primarily directed shorts, documentaries, and TV movies. Though Il pollo ruspante is not an entirely successful effort, it still has it’s interesting moments and I’d like to see some of Gregoretti’s TV work on day.

Ro.Go.Pa.G. remains a curio, something really only of interest to diehard fans of European art house cinema, but I think it’s worth a watch. Pasolini’s segment comes highly recommended and you can find it as an extra on the Criterion Mamma Roma disc. The complete film is available in an average, but kind of disappointing Pasolini box set with some of his other early films and one of his early novels, or in the fantastic Masters of Cinema Blu-ray of Ro.Go.Pa.G.

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