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Pasolini and Religion
The relationship between Pasolini and religion, was always one suspended on a thin line between the spiritual and the profane.
Yet it is precisely in this encounter, between the need to expose the scandal and the need to get at the heart of things, the "spirit", that Pasolini showed his deep religiosity.
This has pathetically misunderstood during the course of his life. In one interview, while he was working on the "Gospel According to St. Matthew", Pier Paolo Pasolini, had said: "In the world in which I live I am rather the sheep in the midst of wolves. And it's been shown by what has happened in these years - I've been literally torn to pieces".
Pasolini has painfully aware
of the uneasy and difficult reception that his works were getting from
the public, especially where religion - the Christian religion - has concerned.
However Pasolini had this consistency, and it has difficult to dissuade
him from going on.
Already in his collection of poems, "L'Usignolo della Chiesa Cattolica", Pasolini had shown a readiness to talk about religious subjects - temptation, sin, absolution, priesthood - from the point of view of a heretic, but at the same time also from the point of view of someone who is deeply interested in spiritual matters.
In his 1958 poem "A un Papa", taken from his collection of poems "La Religione del Mio Tempo", Pier Paolo Pasolini attacked the Pope for having done nothing to improve the social and economic conditions of the lower classes living in Rome, who until well into the sixties were still living in appalling conditions in peripheral slums, (the "borgate") where they had been transferred by Mussolini in the thirties in an effort to "clean up" Rome.
Although the poem talks specifically about Marxism, its inspiration is clearly Christian, albeit an archaic one. One gets the impression of a modern Francis of Assisi facing up Pope Innocent III and asking him about Rome's riches and the immense poverty and misery which still surrounded them; in addition, the last few lines revolve around one of the most famous quotations of St.Augustine's description of sin:
"You knew it well, sinning is not about doing evil, failing to do good, that is sin, and how much good you could do! But this you never did, and that's why there can be no greater sinner than you!"Needless to say, Pasolini was harshly criticised for his attitude to the pope, but it was not just from the religious authorities that Pasolini would come under attack for the statements he made, but also from the court authorities and from far right organisations.
September 22, 1962. The Roman premiere of "Mamma Roma" at the Quattro Fontane cinema. The last showing ended at one in the morning, and Pasolini was present. A group of university students, members of far right organisations, the fascist Giovane Italia and Avanguardia Nazionale, attacked him in the theatre lobby. Laura Betti and two actors in the films, Sergio Citti and Piero Morgia were at Pasolini's side.
Apart from the continued attacks on Pasolini by the Fascists, he was also put on trial for "contempt of religion of the state" following the release of the film "Rogopag", produced by Alfredo Bini. The film's title, a cipher containing the names of the four authors who contributed to it: ROssellini, GOdard, PAsolini and Ugo Gregoretti, contained an episode directed by Pasolini, "La Ricotta", and it was for this episode that he was put on trial.
Pasolini filmed "La Ricotta" in the autumn of 1962, on a hilly ridge in the countryside near the gates of Rome, between the Via Appia Nuova and the Via Appia Antica, near the Acqua Santa spring.
In his biography of Pasolini, Enzo Siciliano says that "from that landscape of excavated tufa, emerged his most singular film. Moravia, the great Italian writer, in his review called it "brilliant". "I do not mean by this that it is perfect or wholly beautiful; but one can see in it the characteristics of brilliance, i.e. a certain quality of vitality that is astonishing and at the same time profound."
A poem through images about a movie set shooting the Crucifixion. The cinema as self reference - cinema caught in its own trappings, or cinema about cinema. But a cinema that also used drama, painting and literature.
"Get those crucified characters out of there"; "bring up the crosses", "leave them nailed up there", "cuckolds" "silence", the actress Magdalen who dances the cha-cha-cha in front of the crosses; and Stracci, poor Stracci ("Rags" in Italian"), the poor extra playing one of the crucified thieves, who eats so much ricotta during the break that he gets indigestion and literally dies, tied to the cross under the broiling sun.
With all its cries and gestures, its bitter cruelty, Siciliano says that this movie set is nothing but a complex metaphor (a parable) for the temple overrun by moneychangers. Poverty, suggests Pasolini, only poverty with its pure and simple words, can redeem the faith. The theme is complex and profoundly Christian. It does violence to the clericalism of any church.
The blasphemy of the repeated cries - "get those crucified characters out of there!" is the sign of an ancient despair at not seeing the everlasting urgency of religion matched by the world.
It is a picture in which
Pasolini's cultural sensibility, and his irreversible need for desecration,
for the purpose of making the Christian credo more concrete, achieve their
greatest clarity of expression."
THE COURT TRIAL
On March 1, 1963, "La Ricotta" was seized for the crime of insulting the religion of the state. The write was signed by the acting public prosecutor, Giuseppe Di Gennaro.
Pasolini gas held by the court to be "guilty of the crime with which he is charged" and sentenced to four months in prison. On May 6, 1964 the Appeals Court in Rome absolved him "because the act does not constitute a crime".
This second judgement was revoked on February 24, 1967, by the Supreme Court "because the offense has been annulled through amnesty". But meanwhile, Pasolini had already expressed himself on religion yet again, and this time in the most unexpected fashion.
In a letter written in February 1963 to Lucio S. Caruso of the Pro Civitate Christiana of Assisi, the writer had told him:
Concrete assistance was in fact given to the film by the Pro Civitate Christiana of Assisi, to which in November 1959, the papal brief of Pope John XXIII had assigned the goal of "leading society back to the principles of the Gospels".
This assistance was an act of courage. Many in the cinema world and in the Church judged the enterprise insane. Controversy flared. The Cittadella in Assisi replied:
"We have had an excellent impression of Pier Paolo Pasolini, as we have of everyone whom we have had the good fortune to approach. Indeed in every human face we see reflected the wonderful face of the Lord... to all those who tell us that Pasolini is not only an unbeliever but also a sinner, we humbly reply that even if true, this does not seem to use any reason to shut the door in his face and deny him the help he has asked us for.
Filming of the Gospel began in early spring of 1964. The choice of one face was symptomatic - that of Pier Paolo's mother Susanna to play the Madonna, convulsed by grief on the Golgotha beneath the cross bearing her son. He spent the whole summer editing the film.
On September 4, 1964, "The Gospel According to St. Matthew" was presented at the 4th International Film Festival in Venice. It was not a quiet evening.
The fascists staged their usual uproar, hurling leaflets and insults at the spectators. They assaulted among others the painter Renato Guttuso and Paolo Valmarana, film critic for the Christian Democratic newspaper, Il Popolo.
But the showing of the film ended with a long warm applause. Paolo Chilanti wrote of the evening:
"That evening saw the formation of an incredible point of intersection to which flowed various and opposed philosopies and irreconciliable political forces. Only the fascists stood out distinctly: they were alone and spoke and gesticulated alone".Dedicated "to the dear happy familiar shade of John XXIII", the film was cited by the OCIC, the international Catholic cinema office. The citation explained: "The author who is said not to share our faith, has given proof in his choice of texts and scenes of respect and delicacy. He has made a fine film, a Christian film that produces a profound impression".
Although later works by Pasolini would also contain clear allusions to religion, such as in "Teorema", and in his post-humously published novel "Petrolio", it was in "The Gospel" that Pasolini was clearest and most accessible to the public about the real motives for which he was making his "shocking" statements on religion.
No, not for the sake of sensationalism, neither for the sake of being original or different, and not even for the sake of becoming famous.
Ironically, the "atheist" and "Marxist" Pasolini has expressing himself on religion in an effort to go back to the roots of Christianity, to the first poor communities of fishermen and farmers in Palestine. In doing this, Pasolini sincerely hoped he would shed away the association that with time had been made between Religion and Power, and thus help in redeeming the true principles of the Christian faith.