Set on the streets of early 1960’s Rome, we are introduced to Vittorio Cataldi, or as he prefers to be known; Accattone.
on the streets of early 1960’s Rome, we are introduced to Vittorio Cataldi, or
as he prefers to be known; Accattone.
This roughly translates as scrounger and its easy to see why. A well known
pimp, scrounger and general no gooder, he larks about during the day with his
despicable friends whilst his women are out working the only way they known
how. When his best prostitute, Maddalena, is beaten and then imprisoned his
fortune and reputation begin to dwindle. Without much enthusiasm to work for
himself he aimlessly wonders the streets trying to find some sort of refuge.
We learn that he has a son that he
rarely sees. Is despised by all the decent people he meets and is incredibly
shallow and pathetic. As his prospects rapidly come and go Accattone encounters
the sweet and unsuspecting Stella. After succumbing to his charms, Stella
unknowingly starts to work as an escort. Yet even this venture seems doomed
from the start and Accattone begins to question his own existence.
As can be seen in Pasolini’s
future works like Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom and The Gospel According to Matthew, his
strong views on society and ideologies are constant throughout his body of
work. This being his debut feature, you can see the very early stages of these
philosophies coming to fruition. Damning of class and social divides,
Accattone’s portrayal of poverty is perhaps its most significant contribution
to cinema. Barring the police, almost everyone in the film is living on the
poverty threshold. Whether it be through selling their bodies or doing
demeaning labour, nobody ever seems really happy. Just content.
What Accattone owes the biggest
influence to is Vittorio De Sica’s The
Bicycle Thieves. What that film did so well, was take a good, honest, workingman
and slowly reduced him to the level of the hoodlums he aspired against. Many of
the same themes are here: class divide, unemployment, pride and crime. Yet
Accattone fails to really explore these themes below a surface level. You never
find out if the characters strive for more in life or why they have been forced
to live this way. Problematic scenes and an abrupt ending can leave you feeling
a little empty.
Keeping that in mind, the acting on
display is rather brilliant. Franco Citti, who plays Accattone, struts
around at the start, looking effortlessly cool in a rugged Steve McQueen-esque
manner. The rest of the non-professional cast (a frequent Pasolini tactic) are
all exceptional in their roles. Everyone’s pain and anguish at their plight is
clear to see on screen, no emotion is held back, making it one of the films
Overall Accattone is not Pasolini’s
greatest work. Yet at this point the director was still finding his feet as a filmmaker.
The beauty of Italian neorealist films is despite their age, their message and
relevance to today’s society still rings true. Whilst Accattone isn’t the
genres greatest export there is still a lot to admire. For Pasolini enthusiasts
this is a must but for anybody wishing to learn about the genre Accattone is a
good place to start.