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Oedipus Rex
cast: Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, Carmelo Bene, and Julian Beck

director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

99 minutes (15) 1967
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
On the face of it, Sophocles' tragedy is the perfect classical choice for Pasolini. He always did exhibit an ambivalent attitude towards heterosexual relationships.

Pasolini's script doesn't deviate far from the original, but the devil is in the detail. His Oedipus (an emotional performance from Franco Citti) is a wild and tormented soul who briefly obtains peace when he is king of Thebes. He seems to make a fine king at that, but it doesn't last. What Pasolini has done is to make him believable. All of his motivations are up there for us to see. Everything that happens could have a rational explanation. The prophecies could be mere blind chance and the sphinx merely a man in a costume. But then, the more traditional supernatural reading could also apply. It's nicely done.

The plot, of course, is well known. Laius (Luciano Bartoli) knows of a prophecy that states that his son Orpheus will kill him and marry Jocasta, Orpheus' mother. This opening part is played out in pre-war fascist Italy. He arranges for one of his servants to take Orpheus out into the desert and kill him. From now until the final coda, the film is shot in Morocco and set in the mythic past. The mud brick buildings and primitive clothing create an eerily plausible Bronze Age setting. Having said that, it looks nothing like Mycenaean Greece.

Orpheus is found and taken to Corinth where the king and queen raise him as their own son. Finding out about the curse, he assumes that it applies to his adoptive parents. He resolves never to return to Corinth and so the curse begins to play itself out before us. Although Orpheus' motives are transparent enough, Jocasta (Silvana Mangano) remains an enigma, expressionless behind her marble-like makeup. It is her suicide at the end that prompts Orpheus to blind himself and wander the Earth as a beggar. The Earth that he wanders is that of contemporary Italy. Pasolini is pointing out the relevance of the myth. What that relevance is, exactly, is a little fuzzy. Sophocles says that it is foolish to fight fate and that we are but insects trapped in amber. Pasolini states that we make our own hell through foolish superstition - a more rational Orpheus would have escaped this fate. For the viewer, needless to say, it is already predestined.

Whatever the interpretation, the film is a visual feast. Nothing quite like that ancient society has been put on screen by anyone else and the Moroccan photography is superb. The original trailer has been included on the disc.
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