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Pier Paolo Pasolini was a Italian filmmaker who is possibly most famous for making the highly controversial Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Two of his movies from the 60s, Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty have been released in a double-pack as a part of the Masters of Cinemas series.
Hawks and Sparrows tells the story of a father and son duo (Totò and Ninetto Davoli) who are touring Italy during a period of reconstruction. They meet various characters during their travels, including a poverty stricken woman unable to pay her rent, a group of marginalized hippies and a left-wing intelligential raven telling the duo the story about two monks who had to convert hawks and sparrows in 13th century Europe. Pigsty is a duel story, one set in Bonn, Germany where two Second World War Veterans who are about to conduct an industrial merger, the other set in an ambiguous period in the past where one man in the wilderness succumbs to cannibalism.
Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty are movies designed for a specific audience, a pretentious art-house crowd who like to watch something that makes them feel smug. Both movies have a loose plots and they are open to interpretation. It’s great if someone is doing film studies at university – not so much for people looking to be entertained.
Hawks and Sparrows was the better of the pair – it was made as a comedy and Totò was a famous comedic actor in Italy. However, comedy is a genre that is often the hardest to break borders – partly because of cultural difference, which means some jokes have no meaning to other nations and the language barrier effects the delivery of jokes. Hawks and Sparrows does have a visual style of humor – there is the use of sped up footage that made the movie seem like the Italian version of The Benny Hill Show and showing the ridiculous site of two grown men hopping around as they try to communicate with sparrows.
Hawks and Sparrows was clearly meant to be a satire on religion and religious dogma, from how messages are preached to how people react. Despite this, Hawks and Sparrows is more characters having political and moral philosophy discussions. Hardly the makings of a thrilling movie. It is made even worse because of the movie’s aimless structure and Pasolini falling into moments of self-indulgence: the worst incident being a sequence showing actual footage from the funeral of Palmiro Togliatti, the leader of the Italian Communist Party. Ennio Morricone (best known for his work on The Dollars Trilogy and The Thing) worked as composer on Hawks and Sparrows, his music was a highlight of the movie, using both a classical sound and music that was popular in the 60s.
Pigsty was more narratively coherent than Hawks and Sparrows because of its story about an industrial takeover – however, it is even more dull. It is a dialogue heavy movie where we see older businessmen talking about their past working for the Nazis and their business enterprise while one of their sons goes through a state of angst and depression. It is an exercise of tedium; all we see are men talking in rooms and a self-obsessed young man falling into a state of melancholy. Pigsty is made even worse because it tries to equivocate Nazism and Capitalism, a truly egregious claim.
The scenes set in the past in Pigsty were the more interesting, shot on the ash covered slopes of Mount Etna. It was the most visually compelling because of the landscape and for being the most bleak, showing a man kill and eat another man and depicting other scenes of violence, sex and rape. This portion took the unique approach of telling most of its story without dialogue. It is the only part of the movie that could draw any level of concentration.
The intended audience for Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty are people who have their heads deep up their asses, people who hold basic narrative flow and mainstream cinema in contempt. People studying film as an academic subject would get enough material from these movies for a report, but for everyone else this collection can be skipped.
– A booklet featuring essays by Pasquale Iannone and interviews with Pier Paolo Pasolini