Mamma Roma

Mamma Roma

1962, NR, 110 min. Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Starring Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini, Luisa Orioli, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 23, 1995

Pasolini's 1962 film has finally (!) made it stateside, and it's about time. Well-known on the continent as one of the eccentric director's early masterpieces, Mamma Roma has been curiously overlooked in America. No more, I suspect. Pasolini's document of an aging prostitute's love for her teenage son and her misguided attempts to control him is a punchy, gorgeous masterpiece, filled to bursting with the director's trademark dialogue, early neo-realism, and enough beautiful cinematography (by Tonino Delli Colli, of Once Upon a Time in the West, Seven Beauties, and Polanski's recent Death and the Maiden) to bring most any lover of films to his or her knees. Magnani is the titular Mamma Ro', who celebrates the marriage of her pimp by shuttling off to the countryside to pick up her semi-estranged son Ettore (Garofolo, looking for all the world like a cross between Leonardo DiCaprio and a young Quentin Tarantino) and begin her life anew. It's a Pasolini film, so naturally things fall apart almost instantly: Ettore begins hanging out with the local bad girl, his friends try to talk him into petty theft (and succeed, with disastrous results), and Mamma herself finds that just because a pimp is married doesn't automatically mean he's gone. Tragedy is the beat here, and Colli's shots of the desolate Rome landscape (it's all weathered ruins interspersed with ghastly Sixties architecture) help keep the overbearing use of Vivaldi at bay. Magnani's Mamma Ro' is a marvel to behold; although on-set tensions were reportedly hot between the director and his leading lady, Magnani is perfect as the loud, abrasive, vulgar, and thoroughly alive Mamma Ro'. It's a sumptuous role, one that requires intense knowledge of both physical acting (the character, like the film, never stops moving: She's always walking, dancing, shouting, like some primordial element let loose in modern-day Rome) and the subtlety of a nuanced performance, and Magnani pulls it off terrifically. Garofolo and a cast of mostly non-professional actors make up the rest of the film's winningly realistic performances and add tremendously to Pasolini's depiction of 1962 Rome as a place of seedy honor, a place where even a lifelong whore can attempt to set her life in order one last time.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Pier Paolo Pasolini Films
Saló, or The 120 Days of Sodom

Feb. 21, 2024

The Decameron
Pasolini's adaptation of nine stories from Bocaccio's Decameron is the first film in his "Trilogy of Life," which continues with The Canterbury Tales and concludes ...

Feb. 21, 2024

More by Marc Savlov
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
Remembering James “Prince” Hughes, Atomic City Owner and Austin Punk Luminary
The Prince is dead, long live the Prince

Aug. 7, 2022

Green Ghost and the Masters of the Stone
Texas-made luchadores-meets-wire fu playful adventure

April 29, 2022


Mamma Roma, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini, Luisa Orioli, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle