"One pimp dies, another is born," says the retiring magnaccia (Franco Citti) at his wedding reception, and the link to Accattone is at once noted. Crashing the party with a porcine menagerie and an array of raucous songs, Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani) cackles with relief: She can finally leave behind two decades of streetwalking and move into middle-class respectability with her young son (Ettore Garofolo). Rome itself is undergoing awkward gentrification, characterless buildings rise in the distance while rocky ruins adorn scrubby fields. Mamma presides over the marketplace but the old life is never far off: When not teaching her boy how to tango or riding in the back of a motorcycle, she’s at her most joyous wandering the demimonde like Cabiria, soliloquizing ferociously as friends and clients drift in and out of the festive nighttime void. (The two celebrated reverse tracking shots frame the garrulous tragedienne against a hallucinatory galaxy of street lights.) Meanwhile, the teenage layabout falls for a mini-Mamma Roma (Silvana Corsini) and is promptly bathed in maternal wrath ("At your age, the only woman you need is your mother!"). Mater dolorosa, Mater monstruosa. A world at once mundane and monumental for Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Madonna and the Grim Reaper both turn up as pendants worn by pimply youngsters and a card-playing loafer suddenly sings a Donizetti aria. Stella Dallas and Oedipus adjusted, Bellissima because it’s Magnani, the anguish and grace of mothering and whoring. Salò’s "Circle of Shit" is already cited during the boy’s climactic descent, arrested for a petty theft and strapped to the prison table until he’s a Mantegna Cristo Morto. The heroine’s vision of aspiration (church dome above cityscape) is curiously quoted in The Departed, Cassavetes has a full analysis in Love Streams. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli. With Luisa Loiano, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini, and Vittorio La Paglia. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce