Wednesday, September 16, 2009

296) Red Detachment of Women (1961) and 297) La Rabbia di Pasolini (2008)

296) Red Detachment of Women (1961) Dir: Xie Jin Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 16, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

297) La Rabbia di Pasolini (2008) Dir: Giuseppe Bertolucci Not Yet Released Date Seen: September 16, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

It's fitting that the Film Society at Lincoln Center should screen for the press Red Detachment of Women and La Rabbia di Pasolini one after the other. As a pair, they complement each other perfectly as Pasolini's short, the subject of Bertolucci's documentary, obliquely comments on the necessity of such dramas as Red Detachment of Women to shape the past into a model for the future. There's not much to Red Detachment of Women, a propagandaistic Chinese drama from the '60s that lauds the revolutionary spirit in female Communist soldiers, but the juxtapostion of it with Bertolucci's ho-hum doc is inspired. It allows you to see a concrete example of the theoretical object that Pasolini's short, the centerpiece and easily the highlight of Bertolucci's film, addresses and then Pasolini's devastating treatise on how that an object helps to both reinforce and defy the status quo.

Though it has some intriguing cosmetic flourishes--literally; the film's ghoulish make-up effects and gothic sets of the film are what recommend it the most--Red Detachment of Women is not a film a modern audience watches for its heavy-handed and outmoded politics. Nevertheless, according to Pasolini, by appreciating it purely for its aesthetic, I willfully ignore its primary function. If anything, Red Detachment of Women is painfully earnest as it rarely allows the viewer the opportunity to snicker at its blind idealism. Campy moments are few and far between and the few prominent moments, including a hilarious shot of the newly established "Score-Settling Committee" of Yehlin Village, are quickly quashed by more sweeping patriotic gestures realized by very determined and equally sweaty revolutionaries.

Pasolini's half of La Rabbia, a bifurcated essay film that director Giovanni Guareschi contributed the other half of, argues for the necessity of that kind of pristine appropriation of the past. Furthermore, no aspect of such a blatant piece of political iconography is too small as to be worth considering, a concept that Pasolini's nebulous and maddeningly dense voiceover speaks to. It's fitting then that Red Detachment of Women should be shown even before Bertolucci's reconstructed version of Pasolini's film, which precedes the version Pasolini was dissatisfied with but was nevertheless released theatrically in 1963. It provides a palpable sense of urgency that Bertolucci's short sorely lacks, though they both want the bitter self-doubt that is so vital to Pasolini's film.

The 1963 theatrical version of La Rabbia features some of the most stirring intellectual* musings from Pasolini. In it, he rants about what he considers to be the contemporary progression of "pre-history," a still-gestating period where icons that stand in for the revolution and/or some distant bourgeois concept of future happiness, ranging from space travel to Marilyn Monroe, bewitchingly subsume the mundane and almost always morally reprehensible reality that allowed them to rise to prominence. Behind every innocent starlet we dream of lies a rotting human corpse, a nasty habit of progress that erases the weaknesses of history for better and worse.

Part of the reason why La Rabbia is as unapproachable as it is is because it is bloated with both sides of Pasolini's argument for and against that fatal sanitizing of reality. On the one hand, he points to the Cuban Revolution as an example of a people that have succeeded in achieving perfection because of their willingness to get their hands dirty and compromise their immediate principles. On the other, he laments Marilyn Monroe's death as the final corruption of a selfless innocent. Both sides are indispensable, just like Bertolucci's diligent inclusion of enlightening interview footage of Pasolini, which effectively humanizes Pasolini's mad genius. In seeing him address reporters with clear, nuanced and bracingly thoughtful speech, the hesitations and the grandiosity of Pasolini's prophecies gain yet another means of expression. The endless creative elements that contributed to and followed Pasolini's portion of La Rabbia signals it as one of his most enduring works.

*From the Latin "Intellige," meaning to be able "To make connections"

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