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Pier Paolo Pasolini is one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century. He
is not generally recognized as such, but he ought to be and hopefully will
be someday. At least in the world of cinema, he should have an equal
position to any of the great masters.
Teorema is just one reason why. It's not my personal favorite Pasolini film, but it's easily one of the best films I've ever seen. Unlike my favorites, Mamma Roma, The Decameron, and Arabian Nights, Teorema is a highly abstract film imbued in symbolism. Not that there isn't symbolism in those other films. The difference is that, in Teorema, the human element is reduced. The characters in the film are symbolic members of a typical bourgois family, the mother, father, son, and daughter (and maid). One day a young man arrives at their home. Apparently they know him. They received a letter that he would be there, and they didn't think twice about it. This man (played by Terence Stamp) arrives during a party. When a friend asks the daughter who that boy is, she replies: "Just a boy."
Over the next few days, this "boy" seduces every member of the family. He seems angelic, offering help selflessly whenever anyone feels hurt or isolated or sick. He speaks little - indeed, there is hardly any dialogue in the entire film - but is always there for the needy. The film begins with a quotation from the Bible, meant to compare the bourgeosie to the Jews wandering lost in the desert after they escaped from Egypt. The mysterious boy, is he God?
Or, conversely, is he a golden calf? Or is he the devil himself? I was unsure of whether Stamp could play the character when I first read up on the film (I had read the first bit of the novel, written concurrently with the film by Pasolini, before I watched the film), but, as Teorema progressed, I realized that he was perfect. Stamp has a face hanging uniquely between evil and kind-hearted. His eyes are cherubic, but his grin is diabolical. What, exactly, is this young man here to do?
Well, I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it (plus, I think I've gone on enough). Suffice it to say that the revelations and effects that are brought out by the boy's presence are profound and quite brilliant. Anyone interested in European art films of the era owes it to themselves to see Teorema. If you are more into realism, especially if you didn't like Teorema, move onto Mamma Roma, The Gospel According to Matthew, and the Trilogy of Life (The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights).
..Proving theorems is a central activity of mathematicians. Note that
"theorem" is distinct from "theory". (From Wikipedia, the free
Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Teorema" (1968) is a fable that tells how a handsome young man (extremely attractive Terrence Stamp "with the eyes of an angel and the grin of the devil") stays as a guest in the house of a wealthy factory owner and seduces one after another all members of the household - the maid, the teenagers son and daughter, the wife, and the father (in this order). When released in 1968, the film had divided believers and atheists as much as critics. Some of Pasolini's comrades-Marxists were also infuriated by this attack on their ideology. Many viewers were disturbed by its removing sexual taboos even though sex is handled very tastefully. It is more a symbol of connection and closeness to God (or it could be to Devil, we may only guess). Made almost forty years ago, "Teorema" seems to be simple and puzzling at the same time. It reminded me Ingmar Bergman's movies from his "Trilogy of Faith" which sums up Bergman's own philosophy regarding religion and God "God has never spoken because He does not exist". In Bergman's world where God does not exist, communication and understanding are not possible and everyone is locked in their loneliness like in a cage. In Pasolini's film, God sends his angel to a chosen family. He has spoken to them and known them but then he left them. Did they become happier? Is that possible for a human to keep on living like nothing happen after the encounter with God?
I watched "Teorema" for the first time few weeks ago but I still think about it trying to understand what "theorem" Pasolini tried to prove? I also was thinking about the films that were inspired by or reminded me a lot about "Teorema". I've mentioned Bergman already. Luis Bunuel with "Nazarin", "Viridiana"," Belle de jour" (1967) - the mother's transformation in "Teorema" reminds about the film immediately, and "Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie"(1972) come to mind. I was also reminded of Andrei Tarkovsky. The visual style, camera work and the use of music in "Teorema" seem similar with Russian Master's. His last film, "Sacrifice" may be the one closest to Pasolini's film.
I would never say that everyone must watch "Teorema". It is a very unusual film that could be easily dismissed as ridiculous and dated or it would be thought of as absolutely brilliant and mysterious. I have not decided yet but I can't forget it.
P.S. November 29, 2006 - It's been several months since I saw "Teorema" and now I believe that it is brilliant and belongs to the the best films ever made. One can meditate forever on its depths and mystery, and that's the sign of a great work of Art for me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Angel or demon? In any case, things are never going to be the same again. The arrival of the stranger as a catalyst and in Pier Paolo Pasolini's hands, eyes and heart a socio-sexual political fable as profound as it is outrageous. The idea of the creature that breaks into the deepest corners of our existence has been told countless times with different objectives in mind. Here, an indictment (even if hopelessly affectionate) of the new upper classes. The operative word is "new" due to the fact that we're in Italy and the "upper" classes have always been so for centuries at least. A past of Emperors, Princes and Popes. The new ones have an American slant in as much as they are determined by financial power. Terence Stamp is an angel/demon of extraordinary beauty and sexual might. Nobody will be indifferent to him and he will have in hand the handle to the door leading up or leading down. From the Industrialist/Head of the family, a superb Massimo Girotti, to the servant, a fantastic Laura Betti who's character is as submissive as it is allegorical will open up (physically and emotionally) to the stranger. Silvana Mangano, dressed in Valentino and Pucci since the early morning demeans herself in a moment that it's pure Pasolini. It is bizarre, in 2007, to imagine audiences flocking to see a movie like this but specialized audiences brought in main stream audiences to this wonderful rarity. A film with a voice, an intellectual document of its day. For fearless adventurers this film is compulsive viewing.
This for me is Pasolini's best film. I return to it again and again. I
could not agree less with the first comment posted here. It's
Pasolini's most politically biting film by far, most on the line, most
provocative. All out directness, no compromising. The assault on the
refreshing (for a Pasolini film), depiction of modern life, takes place
with an arresting synthesis of ultra left wing demands for total
revolution alongside Pasolini's preoccupations with the mysterious
insides of religion. The enigma/stranger is said to be the symbolic
"Christ" not the devil, as the previous commenter thinks. This is what
gives the film it's bite, as the whole complexity of Christian
revelation & conversion, is extraordinarily concocted into this figure
who transforms all he touches, provoking collapse and crisis in all and
everyone. The anatomy of the failure of the bourgeoisie entity is
total. There is no escape from the social contradiction of the
condition - Pasolini points to all the usual routes of escape and
follows the logic to it's inevitable failure in each case.- he knows
his stuff. -
The film came out in 1968, and for me very much belongs to that white hot moment, when Euopean artistic dissenters demanded absolute social change. It sits along side films like Goddard's Le Chiniose. It's message still resonates today, in our landscape of spectral and banished Marx. Interstingly, this film was nominated for some award from the Vatican when it came out, which is amusing because Pasolini spent much time being condemned by them. It also touches on the interesting game Pasolini played when tackling the social politics of his Italy. By playing with religious ideas, Pasolini could court the Vatican's responses, but he also smuggles in hidden and ambiguous meanings which are reminiscent of the sort of game playing that went on between film makers and Communist governments in the old Eastern Block. For me that game playing is at Pasolini's best in this film, where the enigma (Christ) is a sexual seducer of men, women and adolescent boys and girls. Sex, madness and the Christian mystery as Marxist revolution- its a bomb! Be blown away........
Watching Teorema for the first time in 2017 it gave me a chill by the influence this movie clearly had on one of my favorite films of all time "Apartment Zero" (1988) - I know "Apartment Zero" so well that at times it felt (felt is the operative word)I was in their same universe. They are both socio-political psycho sexual tales. Terence Stamp and Hart Bochner even look related to each other. Colin Firth represents a Country in decadence with a past of elegant pride, Massimo Girotti represents, for me, exactly the same things for different reasons in different ways but they are both seduceable in the eyes of the stranger. To think that Teorema was made in 1968 and Apartment Zero in 1988, boggles the mind. Mine anyway.
"There are only 923 words spoken in "Teorema" - but it says
everything!", brags the tagline. It makes some sense, since Pasolini's
film feels like a rhythmic visual poem with scattered dialogue.
"Teorema" looks and feels like a haunting silent film integrated with
sparse dialogue - failed attempts of communication and change among the
A beautiful and enigmatic visitor (a young Terence Stamp, one of the intriguing, almost androgynous cult sex figures of the 60's, along the lines of a Udo Kier and others) seduces and then leaves each member of a bourgeois family. The father (Massimo Girotti, of Visconti's "Ossessione"), the mother (Silvana Mangano, "Death in Venice"), the daughter (Anne Wiazemsky, of Bresson's "Au Hasard Balthazar" and Godard's then wife), the son (Andrés José Cruz Soublette) and even the housemaid (Laura Betti, best actress at the Venice Film Festival for this performance) are all altered by the visitor's sexual presence in their lives, and each will try to find salvation or catharsis once they're abandoned. Their ways can be seen as an allegory of the fears and misconceptions of those trapped in their own conventions, and the tragic consequences of their failed attempts to get away - after the visitor, an hedonistic angel of death, tricked them with false hopes of sexual and emotional liberation. At least, that's how I see it - which I wouldn't dare to claim as an ultimate view on it. As enigmatic and haunting the images in "Teorema" are, they ask for repeated viewings. And just the fact that they give you enough interest for a second look, it's quite a feat. An interesting, cerebral cinematic exercise, to say the least. 8.5/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Writing about this strange film is going to be, for me, the equivalent
of walking a tightrope 1,000 feet above the ground with no rope to
secure me if and once I fall. I can't place Pasolini's TEOREMA because
I'm not quite sure what it's trying to tell me. It's the same reaction,
albeit different, I got from watching Bergman's PERSONA the first time
-- it left me with a feeling of being suspended in thin air over a
field of terrifying white extending itself out into infinity; I had
nothing to hold on to, nothing to help me stand on firm, defined
ground, and a universe of blankness just there, indifferent as to what
I felt or thought or knew or ignored.
Pasolini is one of the most difficult directors the history of cinema has created. His "infamy" after having produced SALO is on a global level: anyone who mentions this movie will create a quiet sense of panic due to the unflinching nature of Sade's story of torture and extreme capitalism devouring humankind.
The following review will apply only to my first view of the film: When an irresistible force comes to visit a community -- in this case, a family -- of people whose lives are mundane in the extreme (nothing wrong with that, of course), the effect is of a total surrender. Terence Stamp is this enigmatic person, a young man who looks like any other young man of his time: he might as well be going to college, since he has this look about him that implies as such. But his presence, his stare that seems not from this world at times since it looks right into you, causes the housekeeper to be the first one to give into him even as she tries to kill herself. Why would she do such a thing? The movie doesn't address this issue -- maybe as he looked into her, he took something indelible from her conscience, something that she still held on to. Or maybe he saw right into her soul and that is something most people cannot bear.
Which is probably why the daughter goes insane. As a matter of fact, all of the characters -- the units in this family, the smallest form of society -- fall prey to an insanity that once he departs, devours them whole. It's as if he were this wonderful narcotic being who shows them their inner truth through the act of sex, and then, once this being had fulfilled his mission, like a psychic vampire, it withdrew completely from their lives. Without this wonderful person, who can they turn to? The son has no one -- his paintings are what he considers rubbish and he wallows in self-hatred. The mother also has no one to turn to except anonymous lovers who use her and leave her abandoned on the way to Milan. The father loses his complete sense of masculine self, reneges his business, peels away his clothes in the middle of a train station as he cruises another man who resembles this stranger, and later embarks on a trek into unknown territory.
I'm wondering, then, why the maid, who was the one who almost killed herself, was allowed this complete transformation of her character, turning into a saint who prepares herself for what seems like a rebirth. My guess is that she being of "humble" birth, a woman not unlike Mary Mother of Jesus, she'd also be stripped of any ties to the material world that could hinder a spiritual evolution. I become more certain that the stranger saw a potential evil in her, withdrew it; she felt the initial horror following this extraction and even tried to commit suicide but was aided to withstand his presence and later departure and this allowed her to not only survive, but Become.
Now, cinematically, TEOREMA follows a broken narrative with stylish flash-cuts that occur out of time and sequence: a style very much of the time it was made. The recurring image of a desert is something we are presented here and there, but doesn't correlate to anything at first. The actual moment when the stranger meets the sister and her mother is also seen in sepia tones, in a dream-like fashion. The actual progression of the story seems sloppy -- snippets here and there that later add up to a whole. Dialog is kept to a bare minimum and the characters speak in extended monologues that look odd but reflect their inner nature, their reaction to his presence, and then their reaction to his departure.
TEOREMA is an experimental film from start to finish, frustrating at times, and one that needs subsequent viewings to be understood, although I wouldn't be surprised if this abstract movie doesn't garner we understand it fully, but just experience it as it is: a movie equivalent to Musique Concrete.
This is the most gentle and poetic film that Pasolini directed. The characters, the location and the narrative are symbols. Words in poetry can express many emotions, truths and philosophies, and so do the characters in Teorema. The general meaning of this film is open to discussion. In my view The Visitor (Terence Stamp) represents love, and love in this regard can be inspiration, devotion to another person without personal benefit. When The Visitor shows the family another truth, and then abandons them, they are left in dispair, and are unable to return to their former way of living. I think the family represents people living in a capitalist system. Pasolini was a Marxist and he directed this film in 1968, a revolutionary year in which the youth of Western Europe (and a part of Eastern Europe) revolted against their governments and wanted to build a society based on new principles. This is a very relevant film for unpoetic times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Teorema", directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini is a an obscure film that
will not gratify the casual viewer because the use of symbolism in the
narrative. This film is problematic, but we are given clues at the
beginning of it, so it makes a bit of a difference putting all the
elements together to come to a conclusion.
It was significant this film was made in 1968 at the height of the students' unrest in Paris and other places. Pasolini was influenced by what was happening as he makes a stand about what he perceived what was the evil in the society in which he lived. The film begins with a discussion about the role of the bourgeoisie and how it affected the workers. We also observe an industrial complex in Northern Italy that is empty of all activity. Like most Italian film makers, Pasolini's leanings were left of center and the communist emblem is clearly visible in the movie.
The scene changes to Lucia and Paolo's villa. They are having a party in which the young man, or "the visitor", is seen lounging among the guests. This man, a handsome stranger, is seen in later scenes as having sexual relations with all the members of the wealthy family, including the maid. It's evident the father realizes what's going on between the visitor and his wife, as well as with the son and the daughter because he himself is involved with the young man.
When the visitor announces suddenly his departure, the family falls apart. One of the most affected is the maid, who goes back to a place in the country where she sits for a quite some time before levitating above the house, creating a religious event in which she is probably seen as a saint, or at least miraculous. Emilia is taken to a place where she is being buried alive and her tears form a puddle on the ground.
Back in the house, everyone else is affected in a different fashion. Odetta, is perhaps the one suffering the most because she falls into a comatose state clenching her fist around an object that appears to have been given to her by the visitor. Lucia, the mother, goes out in her car looking for boys for casual sex and the father also is seen at Milan's main railway station stripping bare after he has been seen cruising a male hustler, only to be seen later on running naked through a sort of barren field.
Pasolini works as a minimalist in this story that seems to be saying the evil in that society is the rampant materialism. Only by shedding one's own accumulated wealth can one achieve salvation, as is the case with Paolo, the father. Or maybe being humiliated like Lucia is also a way of redemption. All these ideas float throughout the film with the music of Mozart's Requiem and the interesting cinematography of Giuseppe Rizzolini, who shot the film in long takes.
Terence Stamp made an interesting appearance as the visitor/angel who knows all the people in the villa intimately. Silvana Mangano gives an excellent reading of her Lucia, a rich Italian woman. Massimo Girotti, a handsome actor, makes an excellent contribution with his Paolo, and Laura Betti, is equally effective as the mysterious Emilia.
Although this is not one of Pasolini's most approachable film, it's worth a look. It's easy to dismiss Pasolini and Teorema, but this film is not a failure.
I can understand how people might react negatively to this movie
(and judging by other posts, some do), but I found this movie one
of the most interesting and penetrating (hmm, no pun intended)
movies I've seen for a while. It has the right art-mystery-allegory- satire dosage, and they are very well weighed. It was just
fantastic. I am not sure why IMDB categorized it under drama. I
couldn't help laughing the whole way through. I don't think this was
supposed to be taken too seriously, since it was pretty predictable,
after all. It was just really interesting to see the way Pasolini plays
with the Bible, Tolstoy (if only he could watch it!), emotions, and
social satire. Mozart's haunting Requiem crowned it perfectly.
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