Philosophy and faith and death, it's all for the birds, Pier Paolo Pasolini keeps them swirling in a lovable, metaphysical jamboree. A scoffing Mao quote opens up the wide road, and there's the rent collector (Totò) with pork pie hat and umbrella and bouncy cretin son (Ninetto Davoli) in tow. Enlightenment is a tall order, just finding a toilet for stomach cramps is difficult enough, leave it for the talking raven ("a left-wing intellectual" born from Signore Doubt and Signora Conscience) to pester them into action. "Ideologies are out of fashion," a stroll through conscience is a stroll through cinema. The Rossellini of Francesco, Giullare di Dio is lovingly lampooned in the centerpiece, with Totò's regal double-takes transplanted to medieval times for the old parable of arrogant hawks and humble sparrows. The monk dedicated to avian preaching literally takes root, his son brushes off his leaves to pick a tomato ("Can I rest in your shade?"). Fellini for the raucous traveling players who celebrate New Life with sparklers on a Cadillac, Antonioni for the dull bourgeois party complete with hounds like the lions of old. Construction sites and tenements line the sagacious pilgrimage, in which worldliness and innocence alike are moonstruck by the santa puttana along the way. Sullen girls with angelic wings amid neorealist rubble, A Modest Proposal, documentary elegy for Palmiro Togliatti, "How Ancient Romans Ruined the World." The death rattle of "Katyusha" alongside Morricone a go-go, plus opening credits sung in anticipation of Preminger's Skidoo, another transcendent crazy-quilt. "Finisce così, comincia così, si chiude così, continua così..." The upshot is that a radical's words are much less useful to travelers than his roasted flesh—a Chaplin horizon is the appropriate closing image for this fanciful intermezzo between Pasolini raids, Modern Times indeed. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce