Accattone (1961)

Review #1,088

Director:  Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cast:  Franco CittiFranca PasutSilvana Corsini
Plot:  A pimp with no other means to provide for himself finds his life spiraling out of control when his prostitute is sent to prison.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 BAFTA - Best Foreign Actor
Runtime:  120min
Rating:  PG for some mature themes.

“Not dead yet?  I heard that work kills people.”
“It’s an honest death.”

I finally got to see Pier Paolo Pasolini’s debut feature, Accattone, also known as The Scrounger.  Starring Franco Citti as the title character, the film charts the fatalistic path of a small-time pimp whose life spirals out of control when his prostitute is sent to the prison. 

Citti, in his acting debut, snatched a BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Actor.  His performance is raw and carries much of the film.  His character exploits women for monetary gains, if only to survive in a harsh post-war Italy.  He is perpetually starving, but lazy to earn his keep to feed himself. 

His friends, equally hungry, but have more respect for each other, treats him as an outcast among outcasts.  In fact, it has been said the term ‘Accattone’ in Roman dialect refers to someone who lives off begging and petty crimes, and who is even despised by criminals. 

Pasolini shows his writing-directing strengths from the onset, with Accattone functioning as a character study and a stinging commentary on the disintegration of Italy’s social and moral institutions, as reflected by Citti’s characterization of a pimp and his manipulation of lovers into prostitutes. 

Shot in black-and-white in a neorealist style, the film echoes the aesthetics and themes of the neorealist films of the 1950s – of poverty, class struggle and fatalism.  But unlike such films as De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948), where an emotional warmth permeates, Accattone has a harsh tone and is bereft of hope.  Pasolini’s frigid style, and almost documentary-like approach doesn’t provide us with any form of emotional resonance.  At best, the film is proudly unsentimental. 

While it may be one of the more unappealing films in the director’s body of work, and not particularly engaging, it does enough to present itself as a strong enough debut feature for Pasolini to leverage on as a poet-turned-filmmaker.  It would set him up as a highly-charged and political filmmaker who would spare no compromise in his pursuit of truth in art. 

Shot on location in the squalid quarters of Rome, Accattone has been somewhat neglected over the decades amid his more provocative works.  It is no less important, even if it may be a bit hard to get into.

Verdict:  A strong debut by Pasolini in the tradition of neorealism, with a harsh, fatalistic tone.


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