Today: February 29, 2024

Hawks and Sparrows

There is a real danger inherent in being tied to the present moment as you begin to look dated the second that moment passes.

There is a real danger inherent in
being tied to the present moment as you begin to look dated the second that
moment passes.
Reportedly Pier Paolo
Pasolini
’s favourite film, Hawks and
Sparrows
struggles in vain against the unfortunate fact that this is not
the mid-1960s and this is most definitely not Italy.

Starring the legendary Italian
clown Toto, the film tells of a pair
of fools who take to the road in search of something. Initially, the old fool
and the young fool (Davoli) wander
through the same impoverished rural landscape that features in such classics of
Italian neorealism as Vittorio De Sica’s
Bicycle Thieves and Roberto Rosselini’s Rome, Open City. However, after
stopping at a local dive (where kids dance to rock and roll in what can only be
a reference to Jean-Luc Godard’s
then freshly-minted Bande Apart),
their world begins to dissolve into a mire of broken symbols and twisted
dreams.

The herald of this advancing surrealism
is a raven who identifies himself as a left-wing intellectual before harassing
the fools with questions that display more wit than they do insight. As the
trio walk, they suddenly find themselves transported back to the medieval
period where a beardy St Francis of Assisi (far more beardy than he was in Roberto Rosselini’s The Flowers of St. Francis) commands
them to minister to the hawks and sparrows. There then follows a surrealist
vignette in which the fools learn to talk to the birds only for the hawks to
continue eating the sparrows because that is precisely what hawks tend to do. Upon
returning to the world of the present, the fools find themselves lost in a
landscape littered with the detritus of a hundred grim cinematic progressions;
here are circus folk and villagers favoured by Federico Fellini! There are the alienated femmes fatales of Michelangelo Antonioni! Symbols abound
and yet, despite the density of meaning, nothing has significance and nothing
has a point.

While one can chose to interpret
this film as a kind of postmodern critique of Italian cinema, the booklet
included with the DVD chooses to interpret the film as a sort of critical
homage to the implosion of post-War Italian communism. Even the interviews
included in the booklet shed little light on this film as Pasolini himself
slithers out of providing any definitive readings. In truth, one suspects that what
intended meaning the film had died first with Pasolini and then with those who
were close enough to know who had died and who had stopped by for a drink the
day before Pasolini began writing the film’s script.

Once you accept that Hawks and
Sparrows is little more than a cavalcade of images and references, the film
becomes a good deal more enjoyable. Freed from the need to present an argument
or tell a coherent story, Pasolini plays with the fabric of our dreams to
present a succession of memorable cinematic images including dark-eyed girls
with angelic wings, rampaging monks and an aging clown who is suddenly gripped
by a lust for life in all its pulchritudinous glory.

Hawks and Sparrows is neither
particularly entertaining, nor particularly profound. However, despite the
film’s decidedly experimental and disposable feel, it remains a timely reminder
of quite how brave and innovative art house filmmaking can be when it decides
to start rattling cages. At a time when every art house cinema seems filled
with beautifully hollow dramas about beautifully hollow upper-class people, Masters of Cinema have allowed us the
opportunity to (re) discover the work of a legitimately artistic and
legitimately challenging filmmaker.

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