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NEO-REALISM/ "We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful”

Scott Dodge revisits Pasolini's movie Mama Roma to stress the importance of beauty in our life and the decrease of the attention to it in our society that provokes stress and emptiness

Pierpaolo Pasolini (Infophoto) Pierpaolo Pasolini (Infophoto)

In the plaza around back and to the east of the Cathedral at which I serve as a deacon, there is a fountain. My two little boys, who are 3 and 6, love to watch the fountain, walk around the edge of it, feel the splash of the water as it spouts from the top, cascades down the different levels, generating a cooling spray. Last night after Mass was no different, no doubt they were encouraged even more by the fact that it was very, very hot afternoon. So, as we exited the backdoor they instinctively ran towards the fountain, which lacks the grandeur of the fountains of Rome, but certainly enhances the beauty of our little piazza.

My wife and I stood by and enjoyed watching two of our children enjoy the fountain. As we watched and cautioned the boys about not falling into the fountain, a dear friend came up and watched along with us. Our friend, who travels a lot, to whom I just lent my copy of Gustaw Herling's Volcano and Miracle: A Selection from The Journal Written at Night just two weeks ago, mentioned the fountains of Rome. On hearing that I told her that just Friday night I watched a movie set in Rome: Pasolini's Mama Roma, featuring the truly amazing Anna Magnani. She asked if the movie showed any of Rome's famous fountains. I told her that Pasolini's film does not show any of Rome's beautiful fountains, or any of the Eternal City's many beauties, because it is set in the suburbs of post-war Rome. The only glimpse of Rome's grandeur is that of the dome of a Roman basilica that it is visible, though at a distance, from the desolate suburb, a view which constitutes the movie's famous last shot. In Pasolini's film, even the scenes at Mass (and there are several) are shot at what was then, in 1962, a new Church, one that is plain with white walls, no statues, paintings, tapestries, oriental carpets, or even any discernible stained glass windows, only a lovely marble baldacchino. It spare and sparse, like the rest of the new suburb of which is part.

This Pasolini film belongs to the genre of Italian neo-realism, but, as with all things he did, there is something more artistic going on. One of the major components of neo-realism is using "real" people, that is, non-actors, either for all roles, as in the classic and seminal film The Bicycle Thief, or for most of the parts. In Mama Roma, apart from Magnani, the actors are all non-professionals. Writing about his use of non-professional actors, Naomi Greene, in her book Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy, asserts that his employment of such "actors" is no different than that of other neo-realists, like Roberto Rossellini, but his philosophy was unique, whereas, the working philosophy of other neo-realists was that  of using non-professional actors, in Greene's words, to "add to the realism to their films, Pasolini turned to nonprofessionals[precisely]  because their acting did not seem 'real'."