DIRECTED BY: Pier Paolo Pasolini
FEATURING: Terence Stamp, Laura Betti, Massimo Girotti, Silvana Mangano, Andrés José Cruz Soublette, Anne Wiazemsky
PLOT: A mysterious guest sleeps with every member of a wealthy household, and when he leaves they come to strange, mostly tragic ends.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Mainly on the strength and reputation of its director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, a seminal figure in the Italian avant-garde scene of the 1960s and 1970s, who nonetheless has only a small handful of films that might qualify for the list of the 366 best weird movies. Teorema, while not his best known movie, may be the the poet-cum-director’s most mysterious parable, and therefore demands consideration.
COMMENTS: Today, it’s hard to imagine the controversy that accompanied the relatively tame Teorema in 1966. The film was given an award by a left-leaning Catholic film board at the Venice Film Festival, then condemned by the Vatican for indecency. Despite containing no nudity or explicit sexual depictions, Teorema was brought up on obscenity charges in Italy. Some of Pasolini’s Communist brethren even criticized the film for its irreverent approach to Marxism and for its apparent religiosity. I imagine what really unnerved people at the time was the bisexuality of dreamy, blue-eyed Brit Terence Stamp, the movie’s mysterious visitor. A homosexual character would have been somewhat shocking in 1968, but a man who fornicates equally with men and women—and whose charms are irresistible to straight men—is far more threatening to sexual mores; it’s even more outrageous when it’s hinted that the pansexual visitor may be God. Teorema is schematic in structure: after a few introductory passages, including a long sequence done silent film-style, the plot settles down to a series of sexual encounters between the magnetic Stamp and the members of the household (mother, father, daughter, son, maid) where he stays as a guest, followed by an examination of their individual breakdowns after he leaves them bereft. Synopses invariably misreport that Stamp “seduces” the household, which is almost the opposite of Pasolini’s scheme here: each of the family members is attracted to the visitor on their own and seeks to seduce him. He initially rejects their advances, but quickly succumbs—he provides sex as an act of charity, or grace. When Stamp leaves, with as little explanation as was given for his arrival, the family falls apart. The pastimes they cling to to try to fill his absence—sex, respectability, money, art, even sanity—are revealed as empty and unsatisfactory. The housekeeper Elena, who retreats to her country village where she eats nettles and performs morose miracles, appears to escape the tragic fate of the others—although her end hardly seems more comforting than the father’s, who winds up naked and raving mad in the desert. What it all means is up for interpretation: despite delivering each plot point on time with mathematical regularity, Pasolini leaves out some essential step from his proof that would lead us to an irrefutable conclusion. I suspect the movie is mostly about the death of God and Pasolini’s notion that, with the decline of Christendom, the bourgeois class would implode from a lack of meaning in their lives. (If Pasolini is to be believed—and surely his tongue was tucked partially in his cheek when he gave this reductionist quote—the film’s message is that “a member of the bourgeoisie, whatever he does, is always wrong).” The snail’s pace and minimum of dialogue make the movie a bit of a chore to watch, and for all his concern with sensuality, Pasolini is no more than average as a visual stylist. True to its name, Teorema (Italian for “theorem”) is a dry theoretical film that’s more interesting to discuss afterwards than it is fun to watch.
Astute 366 readers may note that Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q is basically an inverted (and perverted) version of Teorema.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The sort of moviegoer who thinks all movies must make sense — obvious common sense, that is — should avoid ‘Teorema.’ Those who go anyway will be mystified, confused, perhaps indignant.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “lo-fi jr.,” who called it “the most psychotically Catholic flick I’ve ever seen.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)