Mamma Roma  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Mamma Roma is a 1962 film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.



An ex-prostitute, Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani), tries to start a new life selling vegetables with her 16 year old son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo). When he later finds out she was a prostitute he succumbs to the dark side with the petty theft of a radio in a hospital and goes to prison. The lingering shots of Ettore, strapped to a prison bed in his underwear are seductive and haunting, as are shots of Mamma Roma walking at night, joined by different men in conversation, one after another in one continuous shot.

Pier Paolo Pasolini said that he wasn't able to rebirth Anna Magnani as she was in Roma, città aperta because as an actor, she chose to maintain her independence from his artistic visions. "If I had to shoot the film over, I would have still chosen her", said Pasolini later.

Pasolini vs. Rossellini

The film was dedicated to the director of Roma, città aperta (1945), Roberto Rossellini. Anna Magnani plays a pregnant woman who gets killed in the middle of the Rossellini’s film. Rossellini represents “good Italians” through the deaths of a priest, Don Pietro who helps a communist group and a mother who tries to help her husband who is communist. People who killed these “good Italians” are Nazis. On the other hand, Pasolini comments on how the country changed from 1945 to 1962 in Mamma Roma. First of all, characters in the film are whores, pimp and thieves. None of them are people who work for people. Secondly, in the beginning of the film, Mamma Roma brings three piglets to the wedding of her old pimp, Carmine. Carmine calls them “Brothers of Italy.” Then, Mamma Roma calls one of them a slut. Contrasting with Rossellini’s patriotic film, Pasolini brings irony into his film. Ettore dies in an Italian prison even though he doesn’t die from extreme physical torture. Pasolini shows that the corruption of society is not because of outside forces like Roma under Nazi occupation. The problems are actually created within the society or the people in it.

There is a shot of the landscape of Rome in the end of Mamma Roma. The dome of a church sticks out from the rest of the top of buildings. The scene shares the similarity with the aforementioned Rossellini’s film again. In Rossellini’s film, the dome of St. Peter’s appears as the background when boys are walking on the street dragging their sadness. They seem like they are walking toward St. Peter’s or “the house of God.” On the other hand, in Pasolini’s film, when Mamma Roma finds out Ettore’s death, goes back to her apartment and tries to jump off the window, she sees the dome of a church. She stares at the dome. The image of her and the dome switches back and forth. Her stare gets more intense. The film ends.

Pasolini vs. neo-realist films

What separates Pasolini from other neo-realist filmmakers is the use of actors and their acting. Most of Pasolini’s cast didn’t have any acting training. In his book A Certain Realism: Making Use of Pasolini’s Film Theory and Practice, Maurizio Viano points out that actors in other filmmaker’s films are “beginners” and they start establishing acting careers afterwards. But in Pasolini’s case, most of the actors “only acted with Pasolini." So, actors who have worked with Pasolini don’t develop a career in acting because Pasolini’s film is the first and the last film of their acting career. Author of Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy, Naomi Greene says the use of non-professional actors is the same as what other neo-realist filmmakers do, but the philosophy behind it is different. Neo-realist filmmakers believed that using nonprofessional actors “would add to the realism to their films, Pasolini turned to nonprofessionals because their acting did not seem ‘real.’”Nonprofessional acting obviously interrupts “narrative flow.” For example, when Mamma Roma and Ettore dance a tango song together, Ettore’s rigid inexpert dance move causes his mother to fall on the floor. She laughs brightly. Ettore laughs shyly and looks at the camera. But Pasolini doesn’t cut or reshoot the scene. He leaves it as it is.

Pasolini's obsession and techniques in Mamma Roma

Christian art

Pasolini’s obsession with Christian art can be seen in Mamma Roma. In the scene of Carmine’s wedding, Pasolini recreates the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. There is a long flat table which newly weds are sitting and a white wall behind them. When Ettore dies in a prison hospital, Pasolini recreates Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Ettore is lying on the wooden bed. He is stripped down to a shirt and underpants. His body is tied to the bed. The light coming from the ceiling emphasizes Ettore’s pale skin. The camera shoots his body from Ettore’s feet just like the painting.

Invisibility as "sacred"

Pasolini often uses the word, “sacred” to describe the images he creates or the images that he excludes from the frame. In the film, there are two long shots and both of them are when Mamma Roma walks at night to resume her old job. The background is dark. Only lined street lights are dimly shining. The audience can’t see what is going on in the background. She seems isolated from the world. Greene explains what this cinematography technique creates in Pasolini’s film. “By fixing and isolating segments of what is visible, Pasolini creates the sense that what we see is merely one part of reality, and that the truly essential-and sacred-remains unseen.” Like how people can’t see god, Pasolini is attracted by something that is invisible to the audience’s eye and the invisible images carry something mysterious. In the scene of Mamma Roma, the invisible background makes the scene more mysterious and outstanding than other scenes in the film.

Direct body language

Pasolini uses physical language to show an emotional or psychological state of Ettore. Ettore walks abnormally as if he is “sleepwalking.” Viano suggests that “Pasolini has Ettore ‘sleepwalking’ throughout the film because ‘sleepwalking’ is the best visual translation of a state of nonparticipation in normal, waking life. Ettore’s physical state fits with his psychological state. He starts having a fever in the end of the film. He gets excluded from his friends and becomes lonely. His “abnormal body temperature” shows abnormality or difference between him and other people and his strong loneliness and wanting to belong and to have somebody to trust.

Public reaction

As soon as the film was released, critics and audience claimed the film as immoral due to swearing.Template:Fact The film was brought up to court, but the case was turned down as unfounded. The film is visual evidence of those who struggled to live after the Italian Fascist era. The film was banned in the United States for thirty-three years.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Mamma Roma" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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