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The Hawks And The Sparrows
cast: Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi, and Rossana Di Rocco

director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

86 minutes (15) 1966
widescreen ratio 1.83:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
This is, apparently, Pasolini's favourite amongst his own films. Known in Italian by the much more alliterative title of Uccellacci e Uccellinni, it's a playfully picaresque story of a father and son's journey through a desolate landscape. At exactly an hour into the film, the son (Ninetto Davoli) just happens to mention that it is the year 2000, which goes some of the way to explaining the changes. Totò, playing the father, was an Italian comedian so famous that he only needed the one name. On the evidence of this, he appears to have been a Chaplinesque figure. They are joined on their journey by a talking crow that is by far the most sympathetic character in the film.

It's an essay on class struggle and injustice but, with Totò in the cast, even Pasolini wasn't bloody-minded enough to play it seriously. From the credits onwards (sung as they appear in a cheeky Morricone theme) there are stacks of jokes, even if many of them turn bitter in the mouth. Some of the comedy is rather scatological or relies on clowning with under-cranked film à la Benny Hill, so it is plain that Pasolini was aiming for a mass audience. This could be thought of as 'the Shakespeare problem', and The Hawks And The Sparrows simply too bizarre to succeed in that aim.

On of the most rewarding parts is when the crow tells the men a fable of two monks and gives us a film within the film. In the 12th century St Francis tasks a monk and his apprentice (again played by Totò and Davoli) with the mission of bringing the word of God to the hawks and the sparrows. The monk prays and meditates for a year before he gains the ability to speak with the hawks, which are rather fascistic in their approach to religion. He has a similar problem with the sparrows, which turn out to be a bit more hand-to-mouth in their concerns. In the end he has succeeded to the best of his ability, but the hawks still eat the sparrows. Despite the jokes (such as the one about beards - Totò's doesn't grow while he remains stationary for a year) and the small anachronisms such as barbed wire, this fable is at the core of the film. And it's a fairly bleak message.

Amongst the other sections are two that reflect the class struggle. The travellers call in at a house that is so poor it would have fitted into a Monty Python sketch, and try to extract money from the housewife for a debt that she owes them. Then they turn up at the house of an aristocrat, who in turn demands money from them. The first in particular is uncomfortable viewing, and that is when we lose the last of our regard for the two travellers. Overall it's a beautifully made film, crisply photographed in black and white, but structurally it is a mess. I won't comment on the nihilistic anticlimax except to say that it'll leave the viewer with a hollow feeling.

There are two extras: the original trailer and a half-hour featurette with the self-explanatory title of Notes For A Film On India. It's a shame that this feature never got made, as it looks like an intriguing prospect. Pasolini interviews many Indians amongst his location shots, and the themes of class and the foolishness of religion gradually appear, although the religious men he approaches are generally too wary of him to make fools of themselves in front of the camera.
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