Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pier Paolo Pasolini

In September and October, a series of Pier Paolo Pasolini films screened at multiple venues in the Bay Area.  Multiple films screened at the Castro and Roxie one weekend.  However, I was only able to catch one film at the PFA series.  It was my intention to see more films in the series but a BART delay, an illness, a heavy work schedule and all my other cinematic commitments kept me away.  I most regret missing The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

The only film I saw was Medea.

Medea starring Maria Callas; directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini; Italian with subtitles; (1969)

I have seen a few of the Pasolini films in the series before including Accattone & Mamma Roma.

Medea was based on a Greek mythology story which I had learned in school and forgot.  I can say that of many of the Greek mythology stories I once knew or at least had a passing knowledge of.

Medea was married to Jason (as in Jason and the Argonauts).  Medea helped Jason pass the tests needed to retreive the Golden Fleece on the agreement that he would marry her.  Jason held his end of the bargain long enough to father several children by Medea.  Later, he would abandon her for another woman.  In revenge for his betrayal, Medea kills their two youngest sons and later herself.

This version of the myth closely follows Pasolini's Medea.  In his version, Medea (Maria Callas) helps Jason (Giuseppe Gentile) steal the Golden Fleece from her father; going so far to kill her own brother as a diversion.  Jason & Medea escape back to his homeland (Greece) where Medea is stripped of her barbarian robes and given more modest dress as a Greek housewife.  Jason eventually opts out of the marriage with Medea which results in two versions of Medea's revenge.  At the time, I didn't quite understand what I was seeing on the screen but after reading a synopsis, I understand the sequence of events.  In one version, Medea (who is something of a shaman) curses her own robe and gives it to the new bride as a gift.  When the bride puts it on, it bursts into flames killing the bride and her father.  In the second version, when the bride puts on the robe, she begins to empathize with Medea's plight and leaps to her death and her father follows suit.

When Jason arrives to confront Medea, she has already killed their sons, refuses to turn the bodies over for proper burial and burns herself and her sons' bodies in revenge.

The plot synopsis is more verbose than I initially understood the film.  I should have reacquainted myself with the Medea story in order to better understand the film.  I left the film partially confused about what I had seen and had to piece together the plot by re-familiarizing myself with the Medea myth.

The first half of the film was like a documentary of North African tribesmen and their rituals.  I found this part of the film to be more satisfying.  It was operatic in a sense so Callas' presence was natural.  When the film shifted to Jason's homeland, the plot was harder to understand, particularly due to the multiple versions of the same events.

However, the film is light on dialogue and heavy on images of violence and stark landscapes which stamps Medea with Pasolini's spartan filmmaking techniques.  This interpretation of Medea & Pasolini's imagery is primal and abstract which can make the story frustratingly difficult to follow but also produces striking imagery and theatricality.

I didn't enjoy Medea so much when I saw it but I'd like see it again with proper preparation on my part.

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