A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, November 14, 2016

Pigsty (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1969)

Pier Paolo Pasolini's Pigsty is too much like what people think of when they hear the phrase "art house movie," especially when they have in mind films of the late 1960s. It's enigmatic and disjointed, and has a tendency to treat images as if they were ideas -- significant ideas. There are two narratives at work in the film: One features Pierre Clémenti as some kind of feral human wandering a volcanic landscape in which he finds a butterfly and a snake and eats both, then dons the helmet and musket he finds beside a skeleton. It's some unspecified pre-modern era -- the helmet and the garb of the soldiers and priests he meets later make think 17th century. He kills and eats another man he meets, then begins to gather a group of fellow cannibals. The other story takes place in Germany in 1967 and centers on Julian Klotz (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the son of a wealthy ex-Nazi (Alberto Lionello) who styles his hair and mustache like his late Führer and is pursuing a merger with a Herr Herdhitze (Ugo Tognazzi), who is a rejuvenated Heinrich Himmler, having undergone extensive plastic surgery. Julian, meanwhile, is an aimless youth who resists the urgings of his fiancée, Ida (Anne Wiazemsky) to join in leftist protest movements and to have sex with her. He'd rather spend time with the pigs in a nearby sty. The efforts at satire in the modern section are as heavy-handed as they sound in this summary, especially since Pasolini has chosen to have much of the exposition delivered by the actors in the flat-footed style of a 19th-century melodrama. There are some acting standouts, however, in both sections, especially Léaud, who seems to be having more fun than his role allows; Clémenti and Pasolini regular Franco Citti throw themselves into their feral roles, and Tognazzi is suavely menacing in his. If the whole thing is meant as a satire on dog-eat-dog (or man-eat-man or pig-eat-man) capitalism, it is sometimes too oblique and sometimes too blatant. Pasolini is a challenging, original filmmaker as always, but this one doesn't transcend the often inchoate artistic fervor of the '60s avant garde.