Oedipus Rex, 1967.
Directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Starring Silvana Mangano, Franco Citti, Alida Valli, Carmelo Bene and Julian Beck.
Abandoned as a baby and raised by the childless King and Queen of Corinth, Edipo (Franco Citti) learns of a prophesy stating that he will kill his father and marry his own mother…
Oedipus Rex is a 1967 Italian adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy by Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Canterbury Tales, 120 Days of Sodom) which has been re-released as part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series.
In case you’re unaware of the classic story, it recounts how the king of Thebes, believing a prophecy that his son would kill him and takes his wife, orders for his son to be abandoned in the desert. The child survives, and years later returns to Thebes, not knowing his true origins. He kills his father when he offends him on the road and saves Thebes from a Sphinx, winning the hand of the widowed queen. None of the characters know their true connection to one other (creating plenty of dramatic irony) but when the truth is revealed, the queen kills herself and Oedipus gouges out his eyes.
It’s a pretty dark tale, with strong themes about destiny, fate, love and relationships that have meant the film continues to resonate within modern society (and, after the involvement of Sigmund Freud, gave us the concept of the Oedipal complex, which is present in a great deal of culture and art).
Pasolini’s adaptation retains that darkness and dramatic irony, and manages to make the ancient story relatable and closer to reality than one would have thought.
In Pasolini’s version, the film crosses three eras. Beginning in a recreation of 1920s Italy to show the birth of Oedipus, the story than recreates the style of Ancient Greece with tribal outfits, stylised armour and weapons and set in a great desert to retell the bulk of the tale. The finally ten minutes takes place in contemporary Italy, with Oedipus now wandering flute player, haunted by his crimes, until he finds himself in a field, the same one near which he was born and his mother nursed him. It’s a strong final message, about the cyclical nature of life as well as stories.
The film also possess an incredibly sense of artistry. The cinematography is lush and beautiful with sweeping shots of the Moroccan landscape, from bright greens to the deep browns of the desert, which reflect the loneliness and emptiness within Oedipus. The costumes, props and effects, while crude to our modern sensibilities, still project a great deal of craft and design. And, as one may expect from a director as sexually provocative as Pasolini, there are plenty of attractive Italians on display, especially Franco Citti (The Godfather) and Silvana Mangano (Dune) who play Oedipus and his mother Jocasta respectively.
I’ll admit I found the first hour hard to watch due to its initially slow pace, but once the main story got going, it is a well-acted, atmospheric and mesmerizing piece.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★