It’s a dog eat dog world out there. Or is that a hawk eat sparrow world? Or pig eat man? Or perhaps man eat man? Our insatiable proclivity towards to devouring one another is manifested in various ways through the two Pier Paolo Pasolini films released on Blu-ray this week as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series. Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty could hardly seem more different on the surface, but both are philosophical treatises that question the institutional complexes that power post-war European society. One is a shaggy dog story that pokes jocular fun at Catholicism and Marxism, the other savage satire of the grotesquery of Wirtschaftswunder – also implicating it as a legacy of Nazism.
That comes in the form of the physical resemblance to Hitler of Mr. Klotz (Alberto Lionello) and the hidden Nazi past belonging to Mr. Herdhitze (Ugo Tognazzi). The two are industrialists in modern Germany plotting to destroy one another, while the former’s son Julian (Jean-Pierre Léaud) debates in circles with would-be fiancée, Ida (Anne Wiazemsky). Concurrently, a young cannibal (Pierre Clémenti) stalks a barren volcanic landscape preying on travellers. Somewhere between the two – but with infinitely more whimsy – are Totò (Armando Novello) and Ninetto (Ninetto Davoli) in Hawks and Sparrows who encounter a lefty intellectual talking crow while on their own elliptical journey through post-war Italy.
Pasolini turns to the broad physical and slapstick humour of silent cinema laced with absurdism by way of Brecht and Beckett in Hawks and Sparrows. The light-hearted surreal humour is used to enjoyable effect to undermine conservative convention with the crow’s tale of two monks preaching the Gospel to the birds. In the meaning behind the ultimate realisation that even the idea of brotherly love can’t stop the hawks eating the sparrows, Pasolini remains tight lipped, however. Who precisely each avian group represents is left unspoken. Totò’s portrayal as both debtor and debt collector maintain the uncertainty through the crow’s demise would suggest him a Marxist sparrow.
The intellectual suffers a similarly ignoble fate in Pigsty, with a near religious denouement that sees the two gracefully vile protagonists of Julian and the young cannibal dying ecstatically for their animalistic sins of the flesh. “I killed my father, I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy,” chants the cannibal. In his half of the story, Pasolini shoots in a similarly brutal apocalyptic landscape of moral turpitude that he’d explored previously in the likes of Oedipus Rex and Theorem. In it he creates an elemental and stomach-churning provocation. Back in mid-century Germany he channels Godard and Resnais, though without the inventive wit of the former or the hypnotic mystique of the latter. As a result Pigsty is a patchy yet fascinating affair; as is Hawks and Sparrows, but without the same striking resonance.