Thursday, March 01, 2007


Teorema (Theorem), the Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is one of the most confounding films I have seen in a long while. I really don't know what it all really means even after seeing it for a second time. It is strange and unusual not just in what it wants to say but also in how it goes about doing it.

The main story itself is very strange. An upper class family is visited by a mysterious stranger and soon after the visit everyone in the family is thrown into some kind of a spiritual crisis by uncontrollable yearnings for the stranger. The Husband, the wife, the son, the daughter, and even the maid, everybody wants to sleep with him. It helps that the visitor (he is never named throughout the film) is played by an actor (Terence Stamp) of uncommon masculine beauty. I had never seen, or even heard of him before. Anyway, soon after seducing everybody in the family the visitor leaves as strangely as he had arrived. The rest of film tells how each of the characters are profoundly affected by the experience. The son becomes an artist and starts painting as if followed by some powerful inner force. The daughter becomes catatonic after she measures the ground where the visitor sat with a measuring tape and runs helter-skelter signifying I don't know what and has to be admitted to hospital. The maid acquires spiritual powers and starts performing miracles. The mother becomes a nymphomaniac and starts picking up strange men on streets for sex and the father, after handing over his factory to the worker's collective ends up in a desert howling into nothingness!

First of all I don't know what the title means. May be a right theorem for living life? It is specially startling in the way it proposes connections between sexuality, politics and religion. The bourgeois respectable life that the family members live have alienated them from themselves and it is only after a contact with an outsider, a symbol of some divine, mysterious truth that they are able to come out of their shells and recognize what really lies within their selves. In other words, they discover their "souls"! Pasolini seems to say that sexual repression, materialism and selfishness all stem from basic inauthenticity that lies at the center of everything. Pasolini was himself a complicated figure. Besides being a filmmaker he was Marxist activist, a published poet, a homosexual, an atheist and extremely interested in religion. It comes as no surprise that he is able to see connections between these apparently incompatible ideologies and ways of looking at the life and the world.

Even more than the content, it is the style of the film that makes a powerful impression. It is defiantly non-naturalistic in its tone, texture, narrative, or the way it uses dialogue and background music. It invites ridicule and catcalls of pretentiousness and yet resists them successfully because it is so extreme and again so defiantly non-naturalistic. There is scene in which maid in her spiritual ferment ascends in the air and Pasolini films in such matter-of-fact way that even if you laugh it is not a laughter of dismissal but of understanding. Same is with many shots of the crotch of the visitor or with the scene in which a weird postman comes with a mail about the arrival of the visitor, waving his hands like wings as if impersonating an angel. There are very few dialogues and there is an alarming speech about philosophy of art. Also, interestingly the film was awarded some prize by some (obviously enlightened) catholic group but when the catcalls from the uncomprehending and puritan section grew louder they had to rescind. I think this is a great film about religion, not necessarily about christianity but religion and spirituality in general. And coming from someone who is generally hostile to religion it is really a high praise indeed! It is refreshing to see a film which takes a lot of risks and is able to tackle complicated subjects and great ideas with such confidence and aplomb.

This is a comprehensive article on the film. It contains lots of stills too.


KUBLA KHAN said...

Pier Paolo Passolini is a poet who weaves his colours on a canvas that weaves and sighs.
Have you read his poems.....with titles like Sex, consolation for misery and so. Perhaps you should read, if you havent already done so, his essays called Heretical Empiricism. that will make this movie easier to follow.
Have you watched his Salo?

Alok said...

This was my first introduction to him. Will check out his poems too as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. I loved his sensibility and attitude and style.

I have read about Salo, I don't know whether I should watch it or not.

Cheshire Cat said...

"The Ballad of Peckham Rye"

Not sure which one came first...

Alok said...

I hadn't heard of it, it does sound similar. so the idea isn't that uncommon! Not surprising in a way, it is a great idea... a God-Devil figure wreaking havoc among normal people living artificial and contented lives!

I read somewhere that Pasolini also wrote a novel of the same story.