Pier Paolo Pasolini found himself on an obscenity charge for this adaptation of his own novel, in which a handsome enigmatic stranger seduces every member of a wealthy household in Milan – including the awkward son, the beautiful but sexually-repressed mother, the daughter, the factory-owner father and the scary-looking maid – before departing abruptly.
They then have to deal with the irrevocable impact he’s had on their lives and the consequences of their interaction with him.
The family can’t cope with the overriding sense of worthlessness: the mother becomes promiscuous, the daughter falls into a state of shock, the boy becomes a tortured artist and the father seeks embarrassment, pain and ultimately purification.
Oblivious to whether Terence Stamp’s intruder was messiah or demon, the Italian government banned the film, recognising that in its blend of Marxism and religion, Pasolini had created a scathing indictment of the sexually repressed bourgeoisie of which even Buñuel would have been proud.
Pasolini later won an acquittal on grounds of the film’s ‘high artistic value’.
This is extreme minimalism, and there is very little dialogue (the number of actual spoken words in the film is less than 1,000). And yet this almost silent film is highly allegorical and rife with symbolism and religious connotations.
Laura Betti won the best actress prize at Venice for her performance as the skittish maid, but it’s Stamp’s ethereal presence that dominates proceedings.
Andrés José Cruz
Pier Paolo Pasolini