Cast & Crew
Pier Paolo Pasolini
At the wedding of her former pimp to a country girl, Mamma Roma celebrates her own liberation from a life of reluctant prostitution. She sells vegetables in the outdoor market and dreams of a respectable future for her teenage son, Ettore. Not even her pimp's continuing demands for money can tarnish her hopes. Desperate to save her handsome young son from the various temptations of life in the big city, Mamma Roma blackmails a restaurateur into giving the boy a job. Tragically, her happiness is too brief--her pimp forces Mamma Roma back on the street and Ettore learns of his mother's profession.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
For Mamma Roma , his sophomore feature, he cast a star in the lead, but otherwise continued his neo-realist practice of casting non-actors and exploring the lives of the lower classes. Anna Magnani is the Mamma Roma of the title, a middle-aged prostitute who has finally freed herself from her pimp, the slick and seedy Carmine (Franco Citti), and saved enough money to leave the borgate and buy an apartment and a stall in the produce market. Most importantly, she can reclaim her now teenage son, Ettore (played by Ettore Garofolo, who Pasolini discovered waiting tables at a restaurant), and take him back to Rome with her. Magnani plays Mamma Roma as an earthy, hearty woman who cracks lewd jokes through her pimp's wedding reception (which is her independence day) and laughs without a trace of reserve. She aspires to middle class respectability, but her past hangs on through her outsized personality and brazen audacity. Ettore, meanwhile, is a surly lad who has been raised in her rural hometown, a backwater she disdains ("I didn't raise my son to be a hick," she proclaims). Suspicious and resentful of this mother who has suddenly swooped in to claim him, he's content to hang with the local good for nothings, skipping classes and fooling around with the local tramp and living off Mamma's guilt-driven generosity. Garofolo walks through the film with a numb sneer across his face, as if too guarded to let any other emotion but resentment out.
Like Pasolini's Accattone, Mamma Roma draws from the neo-realist tradition, but Pasolini goes beyond the tradition to play with the form and structure. He leaves unanswered questions hanging throughout the film who is Ettore's father? Who raised him while she was working in Rome? and leaps over the scenes you expect to see in more traditional films, giving the film an abrupt, jolting quality. Ettore drops out of school before we ever even see him attend class, and soon after Mamma Roma gushes over him in action as a waiter (a job she secured for him through blackmail!), he's already quit to spend his days in indolence and petty crimes. Pasolini punctuates the drama with stream-of-consciousness monologues that Magnani's Mamma delivers while revisiting the streets (and former clients) of her past life as a whore, venting aloud as people drift in and out of the scene and she power-walks around the square in the inky night. The life story she tells in these scenes only confuses her past and muddies the question of Ettore's paternity. In one story, he's Mamma Roma's husband, a wanted man who was arrested at the wedding, leaving her "a virgin at the altar" (and if so, how could he be the father?). In another, he's a man of sixty that her parents forced her to marry when she was only a teenager. Never mentioned but even more likely is her former pimp Carmine, who tracks her to her new apartment to extort money from her. His leverage is her hidden past, which he threatens to expose to Ettore. Her son is apparently the only person in Rome who doesn't know of Mamma Roma.
Pasolini was unhappy with Magnani's performance, which he made very public at the time of its release, but by 1969 he chalked it up to a mistake in casting. "As I choose actors for what they are and not what they pretend to be, I made a mistake about what the character really was, and although Anna Magnani made a moving effort to do what I asked of her, the character simply did not emerge." Perhaps not, but Magnani's brassy, full-blooded presence fills up the screen and the character that she brings to the film is a magnificent creation: fiery, bawdy, ambitious, fiercely devoted to Ettore and driven with guilt over her absence in Ettore's youth. When one of her friends observes, "You'd hang on a cross for him, wouldn't you?," you can't help but agree. But her attempt to make up those lost years by lavishing him with presents and refusing to discipline his increasingly arrogant and reckless behavior does nothing to strengthen his character or give him a future. For Pasolini, however, the problems go deeper: Mamma Roma has idealized her new station in life and her upward mobility. Her modern apartment is in an anonymous development on the edge of war ruins and empty fields and the boys of their new suburb that she favors over Ettore's old neighbors are just as aimless and unambitious, they just dress better. By film's end, Pasolini's gutter Madonna and Christ figures, as sullied and sinful as they are, have fulfilled their roles, right down to a symbolic crucifixion.
As with many of Pasolini's earlier works, including his first film, Mamma Roma was controversial for its portrait of life in the borgate. It was protested at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and censured in Italy for "offending against the common sense of decency," released only after a long legal battle. It was neither a commercial nor a critical hit when it was released in 1962 and was not even shown in the United States until 1988 (more than a decade after Pasolini's death), but its reputation has risen enormously in the years since. Janet Maslin, reviewing the film in a 1995 revival in the New York Times, wrote that it "seethes with the sensuality and dark iconoclasm that would mark Pasolini's subsequent career."
Producer: Alfredo Bini
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Screenplay: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cinematography: Tonino Delli Colli
Art Direction: Flavio Mogherini
Film Editing: Nino Baragli
Cast: Anna Magnani (Mamma Roma), Ettore Garofolo (Ettore), Franco Citti (Carmine), Silvana Corsini (Bruna), Luisa Loiano (Biancofiore), Paolo Volponi (priest), Luciano Gonini (Zacaria), Vittorio La Paglia (Il sig. Pellissier), Piero Morgia (Piero).
by Sean Axmaker
One of the pioneering neorealist films, Luchino Visconti's Ossessione was an uncredited adaptation of hardboiled writer James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and, despite tremendous legal woes, influenced an entire generation of directors. Taking a page from Visconti, Pasolini opted for a storyline strongly indebted to Cain's Mildred Pierce (switching the child's gender to avoid another legal spat) as well as Hollywood "sacrificial parents and children" soapers like Stella Dallas and Imitation of Life. Of course, content and context are hardly the same thing, and this kitchen-sink realist take on familiar territory soars far above the limitations of its timeworn narrative. Established star Anna Magnani deglamorizes herself as the title character (obviously a symbol for the struggling capital of Italy itself), a former prostitute trying to make good as a street vendor in the big city. Looking forward to a brighter future, she retains custody of her country-bred son, Ettore (Ettore Garofolo), whose southern-bred manners and lack of education prove disastrous for both parties. He robs, lies, cavorts with "bad kids," and draws the attention of his mother's old pimp, who uses Ettore's ignorance of his mother's past as a tool for blackmail. Not surprisingly, all does not end happily ever after.
Shot immediately after Pasolini's first film, the more traditional Accattone, this film was the last major vehicle for the beautiful Magnani, who made her name with such projects as Open City and Hollywood crossover attempts like The Rose Tattoo. Criterion's extras indicate some tension between the director and star over attempts to make her look more homely, which might explain why Pasolini opted for the more pliable Silvana Mangano for his subsequent projects. Regardless, she turns in an effective performance among a cast of real street people (later looped in the studio, as per the usual Italian industry practice). Often seen in muddy prints, the film benefits tremendously from a digitally cleansed transfer that shows more gloss in the visual style than may have been originally intended. Busy cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli (who also shot key Sergio Leone and Fellini projects) was already a Pasolini regular and appears for a wonderful video interview in which he discusses their professional partnership. Other interview subjects include Enzo Siciliano and Bernardo Bertolucci, who discuss Pasolini's work ethic at the time and the film's place in the Italian classic pantheon.
The other extras are extensive enough to easily justify the inclusion of a second disc. The 1995 documentary Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of numerous contemporary studies of the director; though nowhere near the watershed 1981 documentary, Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die, it's a useful introduction to Pasolini but doesn't go particularly deep into his complex political and sexual circumstances, not to mention his still-controversial murder.
One year after Mamma Roma, Pasolini contributed a half-hour short, "La ricotta," to the film RoGoPaG. European anthology films were all the rage at the time (see Spirits of the Dead and Boccaccio `70 for more well-known examples), and this segment is presented in its entirety. Significantly better than Pasolini's slight entry in the later anthology, The Witches, this outrageous vignette featuring Orson Welles concerns an actor in a chaotic film about Christ's crucifixion who finds himself learning about selfishness and sacrifice under the least comfortable circumstances imaginable. An amusing precursor to the Catholic Pasolini's tweaking of organized religion and mass psychology in The Decameron, this is essential viewing and makes the absence of the complete film on DVD a bit more bearable. (Incidentally, the title is an anagram from portions of the last names of each director, also including Godard and Rossellini). Other extras include the theatrical trailer, a promotional art gallery, and a notes by critic Gary Indiana.
For more information about Mamma Roma, visit Criterion Collection. To order Mamma Romma, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
Released in United States 1990
Released in United States 1991
Released in United States January 18, 1995
Shown at "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Eyes of a Poet" at Museum of Modern Art in New York City April 27-May 29, 1990.
Shown at "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Eyes of a Poet" at UCLA Film and Television Archive September 27 - December 20, 1991.
The second film for poet and novelist turned filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini who marked his feature directorial debut with "Accattone" (Italy/1961).
Formerly distributed by Milestone/Cygnus.
Released in United States 1991 (Shown at "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Eyes of a Poet" at UCLA Film and Television Archive September 27 - December 20, 1991.)
Released in United States January 18, 1995 (Film Forum; New York City)
Released in United States 1990 (Shown at "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Eyes of a Poet" at Museum of Modern Art in New York City April 27-May 29, 1990.)