Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini / Italy-Morocco, 1967):

Sophocles is split across three epochs as a chimera of mythology, psychosis, and autobiography. Thebe at the onset is a Bolognese villa in the 1920s, perhaps the one where Pier Paolo Pasolini was born; the camera lingers on Jocasta (Silvana Mangano) in the meadow with suckling infant until she’s a Fra Filippo figure, Laius (Luciano Bartoli) in fascist military uniform scowls at the baby pram. (A silent-movie intertitle: "You are here to take my place, send me into the void, and rob me of all that I have.") The child is taken away to be killed, and suddenly it’s pelt-covered ancient times in the crumby Moroccan desert. The executioner shows pity, the baby is adopted by the rulers of Corinth (Alida Valli, Ahmed Belhachmi), and grows into Franco Citti’s brutish hothead of an Oedipus. The prophecy is staged under a vast Argan tree and scored to the Oracle’s cackling, the roadside encounter with Laius is a series of fierce, draining slashes painted with blasting sunlight. The Sphinx is a spindly bloke engulfed by a gigantic shaman’s mask, quelled not by Oedipus’ cleverness but by his thuggish force: "The abyss into which you thrust me is inside you." Fervid chanting and handheld tracking shots inform Pasolini’s jangling, fabulously blunt pageant, filled to the brim with mysterious splendor. (Mangano’s half-prima donna and half-kabuki queen, flute-playing on the steps of a cathedral distorted by a Wellesian ground-level lens.) Oedipus refuses Tiresias’ (Julian Beck) knowledge and, faced with the truth, reaches for his dagger and pricks himself into the darkness. The prologue of this Pigsty rough draft and Medea companion piece parachutes the blinded lunkhead onto the industrial landscape of 1967 Bologna, his childhood home is now just another crumbling edifice in modern Italy. Cinematography by Giuseppe Ruzzolini. With Carmelo Bene, Francesco Leonetti, and Nino Davoli.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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