The BFI are currently showcasing the releases of Pier Paolo Pasolini, a virtuoso Italian director who passionately believed that the medium of film could be used intelligently, operating as a form of visual poetry. Released in 1968, Theorem (original title Teorama) is his attack on bourgeois morals, which also manages to be a political and religious parable on the human condition.
The first five minutes of Theorem are a pseudo newsreel shot in sepia, and the film begins by looking at Italy’s landscape and the daily routine of its citizens. Contrasting with this grainy introduction, gaudy colours emerge and we are introduced to a typically bourgeois family unit enjoying a get-together.
Terence Stamp features as the enigmatic stranger who arrives at the wealthy household. During his stay, Stamp becomes a messianic figure, eventually entrancing everyone, and successfully seducing the son, daughter, parents and housekeeper. His departure eventually leaves the family (who have all clung to him sexually) in tatters. The daughter is faced with catatonia; the mother finds refuge in random sexual encounters, while the industrialist father is overcome with Marxist tendencies.
The second half of Theorem is devoted to depicting the consequences of the stranger’s departure. It’s also during the second half that the director looks at peasant life and juxtaposes their plight with the lives of the rich family, evocatively demonstrating the disparity of class.
There are explicit references to art and literature littered throughout the film: the paintings of Francis Bacon, Rimbaud’s poetry and Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Pasolini uses these masterworks to mirror the film’s plot, reflecting its literary and artistic qualities.
Visually ravishing, Theorem looks as if it has been captured in perpetual morning, shot beautifully in undying sunlight and featuring the sounds of birds chirping throughout, with a soundtrack incorporating the works of Mozart and celebrated composer Ennio Morricone. Sometimes the film lags, and Pasolini’s construction of surreal and sometimes stoic narrative will certainly split audiences down the middle – but this has always been the reaction to his work. One thing that can’t be denied is his artistic sensibility and his unique ability to simultaneously achieve dark and playful storytelling while opining on the human condition.
Theorem is at the BFI Southbank from 12th April until 30th April 2013. For further information or to book visit the cinema’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Theorem here: