Criterion Prediction #256: Oedipus Rex, by Alexander Miller

Title: Oedipus Rex

Year: 1967

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini 

Cast: Silvana Mangano, Alida Valli, Franco Citti, Carmelo Bene

Synopsis: A jealous father in pre-war era Italy abandons his baby son in the desert. After shifting to an undisclosed ancient time, the narrative more directly reflects the Oedipus myth when King Polybus and Queen Merope adopt the child, raising him as their own.

Critique: One of the director’s most vital efforts, Oedipus Rex retains his earthy naturalism along with his eager capacity for mythic lore and neorealist roots. Pasolini’s in between the street hewn sunburst of Mama Roma and is warming up to his brilliant Trilogy of Life; it’s possible Oedipus Rex is the best of both worlds. There’s a crisp patience to the narrative, and Pasolini knows how to hold a scene just at the right point where we’re paralyzed alongside grim scenes of murder and violence. At this point, Pasolini is growing more ambitious; he’s shifting periods and is sinking into the Oedipus myth with his growing cinematic vision.

There’s an assured curiosity in his exploration; at first, it feels strange that Pasolini doesn’t use the story to launch a searing allegory in which he would blast the bourgeoisie or condemn fascism. Still, there’s just as much of his potency in the material (maybe more?) without his political commentary. Given that much of Oedipus Rex was filmed outside the director’s native Italy, perhaps the locale change stirred something up?

The Morrocan locale opens up as if it were an uncharted terrain. The vistas are intimate and hypnotic, reinforcing the folkloric ambiance and atmospheric actuality. Pasolini’s casually bold direction is rough and urgent, the cuts are a little jagged, the shots tremble, and it serves the story with artistic aplomb. The erratic patterns and mise en scene go from painterly to verite without signaling. When he pulls into an intimate moment of brutality as Oedipus is dragging his dumpy sword across someone’s throat, the sun is blowing the lens out with flaring light, and the scene won’t cut away; we realize Pasolini is operating at full capacity.

Why It Belongs in the Collection: Once it was announced that Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life was coming to the Criterion Collection, it was cause to celebrate. All three films looking better than ever, with all the requisite features and essays?Wwhat more could a Pasolini fan ask? It also helps (depending on your personal feelings towards the film) that this happened shortly after the restoration of Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, taking that film from coveted, OOP curiosity to an available Blu-ray. The recent release of Theorem is another notch in the belt, so why stop there? The main qualifying case for Oedipus Rex is that there’s a Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release. With so many cases, this often precedes the Criterion treatment here in North America, that is unless there’s already another boutique Region 1 Blu-ray release. Plus, more Pasolini, I doubt anyone will complain, also, the transfer is immaculate, beating the Water Bearer Films DVD by leaps and bounds.

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