English Title: Accattone

Original Title: Accattone

Country of Origin: Italy

Studio: Arco Film, Cino del Duca, Brandon Films

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Producer(s): Cino del Duca , Alfredo Bini

Screenplay: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Citti

Cinematographer: Tonino Delli Colli

Art Director: Flavio Mogherini

Editor: Nino Baragli

Runtime: 115 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: Italian

Starring/Cast: Paola Guidi, Silvana Corsini, Franca Pasut, Franco Citti

Year: 1961

Volume: Italian

Vittorio ‘Accattone’ Cataldi is a low-class pimp living in the inner city slums of Rome. He spends his days killing time in cafes and bars with his friends and attending to his small group of prostitutes, one of whom, Maddalena, he lives with in a small house alongside another woman and her many children. When Maddalena is beaten up by a gang, she finds herself in jail, and Accattone turns his attentions to a new woman he meets named Stella. He tries to make her into a prostitute, but soon after reluctantly agreeing to go on the street she is picked up by a man with whom she refuses to have sex, and is left in despair. However, Accattone comforts her and allows her to move in with him. He then finds work in manual labour, but after finding the job too intense and physically tiring he gives up and decides fatefully to return to his previous criminal ways. 

The 1960s was a highly significant, transformational decade in the history of Italian cinema, and it was at this opportune time that the infamous, once-censored poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini moved away from his literary concerns and turned his voracious artistic attention to directing films. In so doing he made a film in Accattone that took one of the most decisive steps toward affecting a new mode of cinema for a new era in Italy, one of capitalism and consumerism against which Pasolini so vehemently reacted.

That this mode should be concerned with realism and representation should perhaps come as little surprise less than ten years after Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica, 1952) had brought the curtain down on Neorealism. But despite ending with a scene in which its desperate, driven protagonist steals a bike and is briefly pursued by a crowd through the streets of Rome, the realist aesthetic of Accattone owes little to Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) and its ilk. Indeed, in spite of his forceful statement that he wished to turn his back on literature and language as a means of renouncing his nationality (which he saw as corrupted by the bourgeoisie), Pasolini in fact drew heavily on the dialectical style and idiomatic experimentation contained within his writing (especially his 1959 novel Una vita violenta/A Violent Life). That is, Accattone is not realistic merely in the sense of phenomenological acuity. Rather, it is about realism and reality, the extent to which it can be shaped and conditioned, created and interrogated, as opposed to existing as a given, an a priori fact that is simply captured on film. It is presented rather than represented, and in this capacity defines the horizons of Pasolini’s early work in the first half of the decade.      

There is thus a thematic as well as a stylistic engagement with reality in Accattone. There are overt markers of denotative naturalism, most obviously in the twin, patterned scenes filmed entirely in a single take in which Accattone walks with different women. However these shots contrast with the presentational style in evidence elsewhere, especially in the numerous scenes featuring the men with whom Accattone associates. A number of scenes begin with said group, making of these characters both a social microcosm and something of a theatrical chorus that is used to pass comment on a particular action or character. Accattone’s position with regard to this collective is ambiguous, though; they turn on him in an instant when he is seen to defy their inherent code of conduct, and in fact are explicitly juxtaposed with the police in that both demand a straightjacket for the protagonist when his behaviour threatens to become violent.     

Accattone the character is thus more complex than simply being representative of a social class, as Neorealist protagonists often tend to be. Indeed, he is rarely depicted as a social being at all, certainly beyond an early scene in which he breaks down in floods of tears like a disaffected child. His own situation, his reality, is more openly multivalent than is the case in Neorealism, able as he is to shape his small corner of the world. And even if, as with the protagonist of Luis Buñuel’s comparable Los Olvidados (1950), the outlets for this agency seem ritually circumscribed, then this reinforces the view that it is only within a personal code of conduct that Accattone lives and dies.  

Author of this review: Adam Bingham