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September 23, 2011

Movie Review: La Rabbia (1963)

Directed by Pier Palo Pasolini and Giovanni Guareschi

“Why are our lives characterized by discontent, anguish, and fear?” Why, I didn’t know they were! I thought life was characterized by the pursuit of money, the pursuit of shelter, the pursuit of pleasure … maybe that’s why our lives are characterized by discontent, anguish, and fear. The above question was posed to both leftist, communist, gay film director Pier Paolo Pasolini and right-wing essayist and occasional filmmaker Giovanni Guareschi in 1963. Both Italian filmmakers were given miles of black-and-white newsreel footage to craft an answer to that question, as well as formulate an answer. The results -- La Rabbia, or "The Anger" -- are fascinating to say the least, a scorching mondo documentary for the intellectual, where existential philosophy is proffered instead of the expected shots of native tribesmen shoving their heads up cows’ asses.

Buy La Rabbia on DVD

The world was a very anxious place in 1963, having drifted to the brink of nuclear war no less than three times with the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Created before the Kennedy assassination later that year, both Pasolini and Guareschi offered up their Eurocentric views of man’s future.

What will be off-putting to Pasolini fans was just how terribly off the mark he was in judging the nature of human events. His commentary, making up the first part of the film is in hindsight terribly naïve, merely parroting the communist line. He is highly scathing in denouncing the French, who at that time were ruling over Algeria and Vietnam with an iron fist. Especially lachrymose and amateurish is a sequence of shots of the late Marilyn Monroe taken from fashion magazines as the narrator intones about the death of beauty intercut with scenes of atomic bomb detonations. This section is more in line with the efforts of a pretentious college student, and not one of the world’s most celebrated directors.

Pasolini ends his section with Nikita Khrushchev warmly welcoming a Soviet cosmonaut and how the workers’ paradise, coupled with the fact that space exploration shows just how all of us share just one tiny blue planet, that peace among all men is assured. While the U.S. and Soviet Union avoided coming to nuclear blows, Khrushchev was most definitely NOT a figure of peace and stability. Perhaps Pasolini felt the need to justify an ideology he promoted at a time when Europe was being divided up and halved as the myriad horrors of Stalin began to come to light.

Guareschi’s section, the second part of the film, starts off on a high note. He starts his section with Italian rock and roll groups and two clever transvestites who fool the local press during one of their shopping sprees. (It’s interesting to note that the openly gay Pasolini consciously avoids all references to the “third sex” in his section.) Again, France’s occupation of Algeria is touched upon, this time how both the white man and the brown man got along just fine until those pesky revolutionaries came along. Guareschi also bemoans the fact that European colonialists were abandoning Africa at this point, and warns “that the Chinese were watching them with hungry eyes.” Any news item floating out of Africa today will prove just how very, very wrong Guareschi was on this point.

Both Guareschi and Pasolini have definite viewpoints on modern man, but their solutions have since become obsolete. Communism was to go the way of whip and buggy, and xenophobic proclamations on how some unseen – mostly non-Caucasian race would arise to threaten mankind never came to be. In the final tally, it must be noted that Pasolini got it mostly all wrong with his predictions and solutions, but his reputation as an international artist was assured. Guareschi was mostly on the money about his predictions, but is now largely unknown outside of his native Italy.

Raro has even outdone Criterion with extras for this mostly forgotten documentary. Included is Tatti Sanguineti's 2008 documentary, La Rabbia I, La Rabbia II, La Rabbia III, which features interviews with Italian cinematic experts as well as individuals (Pasolini collaborators, Guareschi's son) who were peripherally involved in the making of the film. The disc also includes the color documentary/essay short film by Pasolini from 1964, Le Mura di Sana'a, which was made as a cinematic plea for UNESCO to help preserve the ancient beauty of Sana'a, Yemen's capital city. Sana'a is very much in the news today, and the viewpoint proffered is more relevant now than ever.

A booklet is included as an insert is packed to bursting with yet more commentary and background. In addition, all four of the film's theatrical trailers are presented, reportedly representing the successive attempts to find an "angle" from which the producers tried to successfully market the film.

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