Accattone Review


Accattone is an appropriate opening to the impressive directorial career of Pier Paolo Pasolini, playing as it does as something of an open ended question and an unfinished thought. The film deals with a unlikeable protagonist named Accattone, which roughly translates as ‘beggar’ or ‘bum’, but rather than condemn or judge Accattone, Pasolini’s film explores this character rather pragmatically, allowing us to wrestle with the moral and ethical implications of his actions and most importantly, his motivations.

It is a wonderful set up for the career of Pasolini, a filmmaker whose output was filled with morally complex and densely problematic subject matter, films which raise questions of the audience but provide few simple answers.

Accattone is a pimp and a thief living in the slums of Rome, spending his time hanging out with his close group of male friends and mistreating all the women that enter his life. The first woman to enter Accattone’s life ends up wrongly imprisoned and the second, despite falling in love with him, fairs little better. The slums of Rome presented here are a pretty ugly place to spend 120 minutes but Pasolini infuses the film with a odd kind of revelatory beauty, filling the film with multi-faceted characters that deny simple definitions or stereotypical readings.

Despite using a cast of non-professional actors – resulting in a mixed bag of performances, of which Franco Citti as Accattone sits atop – Accattone is far from the so-called Neo-Realist wave that had consumed Italian cinema at the time of the film’s release. Although many of those films are far from the un-mediated cinematic endeavours they are presented as by many critics Accattone is still very far removed, with a number of stylish flourishes, a particularly memorable 360 pan of the town that settles on the titular character being a notable example, and there is the definite sense that Pasolini is looking for a more experimental than raw look at an Italian underclass.

This experimentation is not always successful, the aforementioned mixed performances are an issue and some of the visual language that Pasolini toys with is not entirely on message, but it hits far more than it misses and what is left as the dust settles is a fascinating an engaging film.

Benardo Bertolucci said of Accattone that, “Watching Pier Paolo Pasolini shoot Accattone I felt as if I were present at the invention of cinema.” and whilst I can’t speak to the experience of watching Pasolini shoot Accattone, watching the finished film with the benefit of foresight does feel as if one is present at the point at which Italian cinema shifted and saw the birth of one of its most exciting filmmakers.

This review was originally posted at Bleeding Cool.