With a stylistic and tonal departure from his first three films, Pier Paolo Pasolini's fourth feature film, The Hawks and The Sparrows (1966), was a pleasant surprise for the fourth day of my twelve-day Pasolini marathon. Unlike the first three Pasolini films (or most of the others), this film is a light-hearted (yet thoughtful) comedy that blends slapstick with surrealism. The Hawks and The Sparrows is almost a precursor of sorts to the kind of work that Luis Buñuel was about to start doing while in France, while it is clearly aware of the cinema that came before it as well. "I think the new element is that I tried to make it more cinema," starts Pier Paolo Pasolini in his interview with Oswald Stack. "There are almost no references to the figurative arts, and many more explicit references to other films."
From the first second of of The Hawks and The Sparrows, it is clear that this is not an ordinary Pasolini film. Wispy clouds pass in front of the moon, and the opening credits immediately begin over that image. The music (composed by Ennio Morricone) is upbeat, almost like the music during the opening credits of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Eclisse (1962), but then a voice starts singing the credits. These aren't ordinary credits either as commentary about each member of the cast and crew is sung along with their name: "Producer risking his position: Alfredo Bini" and "Director risking his reputation: Pier Paolo Pasolini" are just a few. The film is a road movie without a car as a father (Toto) and son (Ninetto Davoli) walk along empty stretches of highway alone. As in a traditional road movie, they encounter strange people and places during their journey. One of their first stops is at a bar across from a bus stop with a group of handsome young men dancing in-synch with one another, which is highly reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard's Bande à part (1964). When the bus passes the bus stop without stopping, the father and son continue their journey on foot. Suddenly, they hear a voice calling for them and find that the source of that voice is a leftist intellectual raven. The bird tags along with the father and son, and tells them a story of two monks who were sent out by Saint Francis to convert the hawks and the sparrows to Christianity. In this story, Toto and Davoli play the two monks and attempt to teach birds about the love of Jesus Christ. It's all at once absurd, but completely engrossing.
One of the most delightful aspects of this film is that anything can happen at any moment. People can break out into song and dance, characters can get thrown through the air like a rag doll, animals can speak, and yet none of it feels out of place. Pasolini has created a film where the rules of reality do not apply, and he creates this world through filmic techniques. By shooting film at slower frame rates, characters can look like they're running twice the normal speed; by dubbing in the sounds of birds, Toto can suddenly speak like a hawk; and by using subtitles a visual device, we can understand what birds are saying to one another.
Three years after the release of The Hawks and The Sparrows, Luis Buñuel made a road movie entitled The Milky Way (1969) which is quite similar to Pasolini's film. In Buñuel's film, two travelers are going along The Milky Way (the Way of St. James) as part of a Catholic pilgrimage, and along the way they see a myriad of atrocities committed by Christians throughout time. Though the conclusions of both The Hawks and The Sparrows and The Milky Way are not identical, they both involve the two men being seduced by a beautiful young woman. Beyond The Milky Way, the final shot of The Hawks and The Sparrows is reminiscent of the final shot of Buñuel's masterpiece, The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie (1972). It could just be coincidence (particularly in the case of The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie), but Pasolini tapped into a style that feels well-ahead of its time with Lynchian humor more than a decade before Eraserhead (1977).
My rating: 4/5