Criterion Prediction #197: Porcile, by Alexander Miller
Title: Pigsty (aka Porcile)
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cast: Jean-Pierre Leaud, Anne Wiazemsky, Marco Ferreri, Ugo Tonazzi, Pierre Clémenti, Alberto Lionello
Synopsis: Porcile consists of two parallel stories. One, set in an undetermined, medieval-esque era, follows a lone cannibal wandering through a mountainous volcanic region. As time passes, he generates a ragged gang who terrorize anyone they encounter. Contrasting that period atmosphere is the more modern storyline, focusing on a wealthy industrialist family. While the father (Lionello) is engaged with a corporate rivalry, his son Julian (Leaud) explains to his activist girlfriend (Wiazemsky) his various odd philosophies, namely his relationship with pigs.
Critique: Pasolini’s politics are the motivating force behind his varied works; the bulk of them tossups between his neorealist traditions, strident allegory and mythic adaptations.
Like Theorem, Pigsty straddles the ethos of Pasolini’s oeuvre. More so than the comparatively low-key (for Pasolini) Theorem, Pigsty’s dual narrative is a representation of the director’s artistic evolution. The contemporary storyline maintains interest due to the casting of nouvelle vague alumni Leaud and the politically active Wiazemsky; however, they’re merely allegorical ciphers and the symbolic furnishings aren’t as punchy or stirring as Pasolini’s more charged cinema. With the evolution of Pasolini’s style after the more distant quietude of Theorem, coupled with the influence of Leaud and Wiazemsky (it’s hard not to be reminded of Le Chinoise seeing these two on-screen together), it almost feels as if Godard’s Brechtian machinations rubbed off on the maverick Italian director. Throughout the period side of the narrative, Pasolini hones his craft in the arena where he excels most, forming a naturalistic and earthy period setting and eschewing stately grandeur for gravelly realism. His intuitive style suggests an outright aversion toward traditional beauty of any kind.
While Pasolini’s condemnation of the bourgeois and deviated capitalism is admirable and spirited, his sounding board in Pigsty is too oblique and the characters in the contemporary storyline feel more totemic than anything else. Despite the many ardent fans of this transitional era in Pasolini’s career, it feels less engaging than his earlier neo-realist efforts and his later more bawdy and mystical adaptations. Pigsty has the director’s visual kineticism but the execution is jocular, defaulting to making its modern characters into punchlines.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: The idea that Pigsty might be getting the Criterion treatment was more of a projection but now that Pasolini’s 1969 film is a part of the Masters of Cinema series, I think we can anticipate it getting another spine number in the near future. For those of us who have suffered thanks to the Water Bearer DVD of Pigsty (the subtitles and images are abysmal), this would be cause to celebrate if we saw the film join the ranks alongside the other Pasolini movies in the Collection.