‘I killed my father, I have eaten human flesh, and I quiver with joy’ utters a beautiful young man minutes before he is staked out and left for dead on the side of a great black volcano.
‘I killed my father, I have eaten human flesh, and I quiver with joy’
utters a beautiful young man minutes before he is staked out and left for dead
on the side of a great black volcano. These words are the only words
uttered by that character and they stand as a challenge to the viewer:
understand them and you understand the entirety of this strange, shocking and
perverse film by the great Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Pigsty is not easy to decipher. Made during the first great outpouring
of European art house cinema, the film speaks in a language that is rich in
poetry, symbolism and experimentation. However, while many of the techniques
developed in 1960s European cinema remain in use today, many failed to catch on
meaning that films like Pigsty can seem as fresh and as unsettling as they did
over forty years ago. Indeed, few films like Pigsty are made today but those of
you who are familiar with works such as Jodorowsky’s
El Topo, Herzog’s Aguerre or Antonioni’s L’Avventura may feel some flicker of recognition as Pasolini drags
us through a bleakly surreal landscape where words mean little and symbols mean
The film is made up of two thematically
The first story tells of a young
man who wanders around a desert until his hunger forces him to resort to
cannibalism in an attempt to stay alive. Having acquired a taste for human
flesh, he soon begins recruiting cannibalistic followers until the local church
authorities are forced to hunt him down. Given a chance to recant his sins, the
young man (Clementi) refuses and
defiantly mutters the phrase ‘I
killed my father, I have eaten human flesh, and I quiver with joy’ over and
While the first story is almost
completely silent, the second is overburdened with words. In this story another
young man (Leaud) finds himself
trapped between the ravening dynastic greed of his Hitlerian father (Lionelli) and the revolutionary fervour
of his intended fiancée (Wiazemsky).
Disgusted by his father’s moral decadence and puzzled by the Marxist gibberish
that tumbles from his intended’s mouth, the young man retreats first into
social withdrawal and then into bestial revelries at the local pigsty.
These characters are united both by
a need to rebel and the need to create a language in which they can express
their rejection of traditional values. Thus, the young man who wanders around a
wasteland finds meaning in rape and cannibalism, as these are literally the
only forms of expression available to him. Meanwhile, the young man who lives
in contemporary Germany is forced to have sex with pigs as his Hitlerian father
is not only transgressing all moral laws but also doing so in the name of
traditional middle-class values.
Pigsty is an attempt to address the
relationship between the generations and how difficult it can be for the young
to express themselves when they are not the ones in control of society.
Particularly striking is the way that Pasolini presents post-War German
prosperity as little more than a repackaged version of the pre-War economic
boom engineered by the Nazi government of the 1930s. With all of culture safely
commoditised and filed away, what are today’s rebels to do but seek sanctuary
in the most heinous acts imaginable? Windy, difficult and decidedly ‘of its time’
Pigsty remains a ceaseless beautiful and thought-provoking film by one of the
great provocateurs and stylists of the European art house tradition.
While the DVD contains no extras,
the Masters of Cinema people were kind enough to include a booklet featuring a
number of fantastic essays and interviews designed to help us decode what is
definitely both a challenging and an intensely rewarding viewing experience.