Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967)
Italian Title: Edipo re
Oedipus Rex is arguably Pier Paolo Pasolini's most autobiographical film, as he admitted having a longing for his mother, and adversity against his father. For those who take the psychoanalytic theory creatively named after the Greek tragedy seriously, the film may very well be as biographical to them as it was for Pasolini. The film is a straightforward adaptation of Sophocles' play, with a few added Pasolini touches for creative and artistic sake. Gone are the traditionally Greek-inspired costumes, replaced by African masks, less boisterous props, and a setting where the sun bakes the land unforgivingly. Pasolini's curiosity for cultural diversity and anthropological detail would not have reached its heights until Medea (1969).
Franco Citti plays the Greek tragic figure, who was ordered killed by his blue-blooded parents in the fear of the prophecy of the son killing his parents coming true. However, the baby survives and is adopted by the king of Corinth until he turns into an adult, and is hounded by a recurring dream for which he would try to seek answers from the Oracle. The Oracle basically repeats the prophecy: that he will kill his father and he will make love with his mother.
Curiously, Pasolini bookends the adaptation of Sophocles' play with a prologue and an epilogue that is set in contemporary times. The prologue is basically a staging, or more accurately, a filming of the psychological concept in action: a young boy's adversity towards his father, a military officer, for taking his mother away and stealing his mother's affections from him. The prologue hasn't anything much to say. The filmmaking is standard Pasolini, straightforward and sometimes lingering to idle poetry. Yet, it doesn't work until the film shifts to primitive times, where emotions aren't dressed and protected with modern ideas of propriety and ethics.
The Oedipus Pasolini presents is no Greek hero, but more of a cheat, a primal specimen of the naked id. Once aware of the prophecy, it is the id which gains control (although, it always seems to be that case, the competitive Oedipus cheats in discus-throwing and makes a dastardly effort to prove himself). The highest point of Pasolini's psychotic Oedipus is when his pride was damaged by a traveling king (his father, but he doesn't know that yet). Like a coward, he runs to save his skin, but a mysterious force keeps on urging him to stop and fight it out, until finally, he reaches to his father's throat and slits it. Pasolini's filmmaking here is intense. He shoots against the light, with the swordfights usually blanketed by the sun's glare, an imagery gesturing a heated and uncontrolled impulse.
Oedipus' biological mother is played by Silvana Mangano, who is a welcome presence against Citti's lack of middle range in acting (he either screams and shrieks in anger or is comatose in unlively scenes). Mangano's Jocasta is regal, seductive, controlled, beautiful yet unmaternal. As a mother, she is uncaring and almost negligible but as a lover, she reminds me of a playful and less conniving Lady Macbeth. The incest is played matter-of-factly, I have this impression that Pasolini's talent is portraying sex as a fact of life, its emotional or moral implications furthered by what the audience knows of its backgrounds. Here, the sex is primitive, with Oedipus switching from son to lover in uneasy gestures and variations of kissing, finally withdrawing to the wishes of the id, to make love.
The film ends with the character of Oedipus being transported into contemporary times, blind and guided by a young boy. He plays his flute underneath two imposing figures: a Catholic cathedral, and then, an industrial factory. This might be Pasolini's Marxist philosophies at work - a push against faith, and a push forward to the everyman. I really don't know, as the film's ending is far too opaque for deliberation, and symbolisms like these are far too obvious and blatant that it will belittle my little liking of Pasolini's adaptation of Oedipus Rex.