(Theorem, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy, 1968)


(notes on a second viewing)


Particularly impressed by the poetic aptness of touches in Pasolini’s direction: for instance, the fine tableau shot of Terence Stamp (as The Visitor) and the boy (Andrés José Cruz Soublette as Pietro) undressing. Taken by the moody, archaic landscape shots positioned beyond narrative space and time. Terrific compositions of roadways, cityscapes. Much handheld work, though certainly not as raw, unformed or naive as I thought upon first viewing. The cold, icy design: the mansion, streets – though not as locked into a cold, architectonic form as in Peter Greenaway (the hand-held camera helps in offsetting the potential rigidity of the production design). A slightly desaturated colour palette: no strong, fiery primaries. Complete spatial discontinuity – cuts all around 360 degrees (as in scene where Anne Wiazemsky as Odetta uses her camera).


Very drawn to the “highly elliptical” (as per Naomi Greene’s 1990 Cinema as Heresy book on PPP) nature of scene durations and successions. Scenes end, without fanfare, at the least likely moments. Actions don’t quite conclude: like the sex with Silvana Mangano as the Mother, or with Paolo, the father (Massimo Girotti), or Odetta (see below). Aleatoric supplement: poem or quotation on soundtrack, as The Visitor strolls along with Dad.


The narrative, logical and causal relation of one thing to the next is very weird: is it actually “five intercut parallel narrations”, as Greene describes it? (I am not too keen to believe her book: the plot synopsis for this film may have invented two introductory scenes after the news crew reportage opening! A confusion possibly arisen because of consulting various published versions of the Teorema text, which began as a theatre project and later re-written by Pasolini as a verse-filled novel.) Narrative time is completely distorted, attenuated, floating, evaporated.


More generally, such an extraordinarily simple two-part structure, so minimal: an act (the visit of the stranger and all the sex he performs on everybody) followed by the fall-out, the consequences of the act (everybody goes crazy). A serial structure in both parts – no real interactions between family members to speak of. Narrative cartilage, as Peter Wollen used the term in his book on Singin’ in the Rain (1952).


It’s an extremely silent film – with a deliberately thin sound design. Usual musical collage for PPP: a separate-streaming of music and plot threads, a famous classical piece for one, Ted Curson’s melancholic jazz piece “Tears for Dolphy” in another (this music has a maddeningly breezy effect, particularly at the start – and actually was the basis of a successful lawsuit against the producers from Curson).


Crazy stuff with looks, points of view, gazes just off or tipping into the line of the camera’s gaze; various confusions about who is exactly where, looking at who or what; weird flicks of the eyes into the camera (as with a young man at the train station – wild tracking shot there with every second person glancing at the apparatus, prefiguring Tout va bien [1972] ... perhaps Teorema was shot just after Weekend [1968], and Wiazemsky is in both). And, above all, the extraordinary “consummation” scene between Odetta and The Visitor: arranged in the mise en scène (or deliberate mess en scène) as if to demonstrate the absolute limit, the impossible fusion of two bodies/souls/genders in the act of kissing (primal cinematic spectacle): close as possible is never close enough, the separate reverse-angles will never dissolve into one another seamlessly, the wide-open eyes (one eyeball framed at the side of the other person’s head) of both participants drift upward, everything is too awkward, too material, too separate in the framing and the staging. And moments after a spatially ambiguous shot of Odetta unbuttoning her shirt, the scene whisks itself away, as ever …



Amazing faces, as always in PPP: Stamp perfectly cast (he looks like a more beautiful Dylan from Beverly Hills, 90210!): angelic, boyish, opaque, great with his body and various nonchalant gestures, looks completely at ease when perfectly naked with either gender. The mannered melodramatic hysteria of Mangano – gasping, bugging her eyes  – no matter what simple thing she’s doing; and so perfectly made-up, cosmetics and hair like some weird porcelain doll. Heavy presence or glaring absence of make-up on the actors in Pasolini – a jarring, deliberate discrepancy from scene to scene.


Wiazemsky is all big eyes and pasty, pale adolescence (she was only 21 at the time of filming). The tortured young artist son (with his great monologue about being “inept, impotent”, fooling the world that all chance is in fact formed design), suitably dark but also callow. The ruggedly handsome, dark industrialist father. Insane-looking Laura Betti, with a great aura of desire, animal and spiritual yearning, all over her face and tiny arms, her gestures.


The famous crotch shots: Stamp in pants unerringly coming to mark the dead centre of the screen. Greene calls it (in quotes) “fetishism”! – each to their own, I guess. Details that were derisively funny to me last time, now I appreciate more for their rich humour: “That’s what happens to you when you only eat nettles!” (i.e., you levitate); the artist and his angst; that funny little dancing Ninetto Davoli as Divine Postman; and particularly the fine moment of comedy where The Visitor stands there with all of them, suddenly all together in the same shot, saying goodbye to each in turn: so much angst and melodrama in the one frame!


The whole ambience of Teorema as a hard-to-read allegory, not ‘obscure’ or mysterious or multi-levelled in the standard art-cinema sense, but, on the contrary, something brutish, literal, intractable – so very there, on the surface, but glacially so.  (Greene keeps harping on its ambiguity, mystery, etc., as if she really does not have a clue.) Looks forward to Salò: it’s something that can’t be easily consumed. Symbolic tableau stuff: the woman buried in dirt, her tears (or rather, in a catchy bit of proximity-metonymy, the tiny pool of rainfall near her eye) providing the water for the optimistic life of the future. How could I ever have forgotten that sight?


Cinema Map of Forms: PasoliniParajanovGarrelRuiz. True Ruizian moments of the levitation, and even more so the primitive cinematic “miracle” of the boy with a sick face which then becomes, after a cut, a beautiful, clean, smiley face! (Almost a touch of Soviet-era fairy tale, here: miracles of the divine proletariat, etc.). Parajanov: tableaux and allegory. Garrel connection less expected; with Pierre Clémenti in Pasolini’s Porcile in the same year (1969) as The Virgin’s Bed and before The Inner Scar (1972), there’s the clear carry-over, in the actor’s manner, of an intense interest in ritual and the archaic, the religious, the wordless. But also the non-narrative time in Teorema anticipates J’entends plus la guitare (the Italian element in Garrel: Antonioni, Pasolini, Clémenti, his time in Positano, the sojourn in The Birth of Love). And the dreamy jazz of Teorema definitely anticipates Faton Cahen’s score for J’entends! (As well as Barbieri’s music for Last Tango in Paris).

MORE Pasolini: Oedipus Rex

see also: Pasolini

© Adrian Martin 22 July 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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