Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pasolini's "The Hawks and the Sparrows" (1966)

Uccellacci e uccellini (original title) is a comical, picaresque political allegory. A father and his son walking on a road meet a talking raven who tells them the story of how Saint Francis sent a pair of monks very like them to preach to the hawks and then the sparrows. Though the monks finally found a way to preach to the birds in their own languages, the gospel did not prevent the hawks from eating the sparrows.

After that digression, the film reveals that the father is on his way to collect rent. His impoverished tenants are so poor that they eat boiled bird's nest (like the Chinese do, the wife said, in an allusion to the Chinese Communist Revolution) and keep their children in bed so that they don't have to be fed. Having to leave empty-handed, the father in turn is set upon by dogs when he cannot turn over any money to his rich landlord.

Other episodes on the road enrich this otherwise deliberately simple tale. Father and son meet a group of circus folks at one point, and at another a beautiful woman whom both lust after. Tired and hungry near the end of their trek, having missed their bus, they kill the raven and eat it. So the Italian left-wing intellectual is destroyed by the petty bourgeoisie who are themselves both oppressors and oppressed. The Italian comedian Totò plays the father while the son is played by Pasolini's lover Ninetto Davoli. Both are great portraits of political innocence.

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