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Max von Sydow
Mamma Roma is a middle-aged whore of Roma. Now she can quit her job to become a fruit seller. And she can take back her 16-year-old son, Ettore. For him, she dreams of a good position. But it is perhaps too late for Ettore, whose company includes mostly teenaged louts... Written by
Mamma Roma could be Pasolini's best film. Well, perhaps I shouldn't judge that right now. I have seen two others, Salo, which I quite like despite its being the vilest film ever made, and The Gospel According to Matthew, generally considered his best film. I love that one, as well. But, as much as I loved those two films, they didn't envelope me like Mamma Roma did.
Anna Magnani plays the titular character, an aging, plump, and earthy whore. Her pimp has retired and let her go, so Mamma Ro' runs off to the country to gather up her teenage son. The backstory of the son is left obscure. Apparently Mamma Ro' left him with some relatives or something like that. Her son, Ettore, is excited to move to Rome, but he is not sure whether he trusts his mother. She has abandoned him for most of his life presumably (one of the great gifts that Pasolini has in this film is that he never spells anything out, but just suggests and implies a lot).
The film shifts between Mamma Ro' and Ettore. Ro' is running a respectable fruit stand, although she likes to hang around all of her friends who are still prostitutes and pimps. Probably the most memorable shot of the film occurs when Ro' walks down the streets of rural Rome at night. The camera moves backwards on a dolly, and Ro' is constantly walking towards it. Her friends approach her, talk with her and walk with her a while, only to drop back. A few seconds later, a new companion will walk up next to Ro' and walk beside her, talk with her. There are actually two scenes with this shockingly beautiful technique, used at strategic points of the film. Mamma Roma cares about her son more than anything. She is a good mother, or at least she is overly determined to be one.
Ettore, on the other hand, lives a life of boredom. School does not interest him, nor does work. He would rather hang around with all the local hoodlums and the local tramp who lives down the street. He wanders around amongst the ruins of ancient Roman city walls. The landscape is simply beautiful, but in a very desolate manner. As the film progresses, Ettore grows more and more delinquent.
The themes of mother and son are universal. Of making amends and of growing up. This film captures the feel of human existence as almost no other film does. Pasolini is a genius, he has his fingers right on the pulse of human rhythm. I think that he captures what the neorealist directors were always after. They always got bogged down in melodrama, although I do love a ton of them. Mamma Roma is the kind of film that makes me happy to be alive. It's not exactly a happy film, but it is wonderfully life affirming. When Mamma Ro' rode proudly down the street on the back of her son's motorbike, it left a mark on me never to be erased.
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