Last night, I completed the first half of Pier Paolo Pasolini's feature film work with his sixth feature, Teorema (1968). Of all the films Pasolini has made up to this point in his twelve-film career, Teorema is perhaps the most elusive. Teorema's meaning and purpose does not announce itself, and neither does its plot.
The film starts with questions being asked of a factory worker who has just been given control of the factory by his boss. 16mm cameras in the hands of reporters film the factory worker's responses as concerns of the growing bourgeoisie are expressed. From there, we are introduced to the boss of the factory, Paolo (Massimo Girotti), and his family. Everyone is struggling to remain happy. The maid (Laura Betti) tries to kill herself with the gas nozzle from the stove, the daughter (Anne Wiazemsky) is fearful of returning to her previous psychological state, the son (Andrés José Cruz Soublette) is ashamed of his true self, the wife to the factory boss (Silvana Mangano) is sexually frustrated, and the factory boss himself is suffering from physical ailments. To comfort everyone is a savior, of sorts, portrayed by Terence Stamp. He is a guest in their home, and his gift to everyone is love and affection – as the answer to all of these frustrations is sexual relief. When he is summoned to leave, his absence leaves the family in a position where they must learn to live without his care and company. Some members of the household fail to cope without him, but others manage to go through an internal transformation.
Terence Stamp's exit from the film allows for Teorema to become a loose metaphor for artistic concepts in cinema. In painting and other fine arts, negative space is the area in a work that is not the subject of the piece. Narratively, Teorema is a film comprised of negative space. Throughout the film, Pasolini gives us the start of an emotional or physical event, and then cuts away from the action to move onto the next person or place. What Pasolini chooses to show is what other directors would prefer to cut out of the film. Similarly, what Pasolini does not show would generally be the only scenes shown in another film. Every sexual encounter in Teorema is cut short, and it must be assumed that any scene that could give a specific explanation for the nature of Terence Stamp's character has been excluded as well. Though there are many questions, the film remains consistently interesting. Negative space in Pasolini's film involves characters gong places together, but cutting away before they get to their destination – it's a film about transition. Even on a visual level, the gaze of the camera is often high, giving an emphasis on the "headroom" of a composition – the negative space. The sky, trees, and the mansion of a home that the factory boss and his family live in are just as important (in most cases, even more important on a visual level) than the characters in the frame.
Though the plot is not a concern in Teorema, the emphasis on inaction places the interiors of its characters at the forefront. Plot is generally an external factor that moves a story along. When there is no formal plot provided (other than the exit of a beautiful house guest), the audience becomes an observer of life. The exteriors of the actors (body language, expression, etc) become our guide to the interior worlds that are are in a state of change and conflict. Ennio Morricone's jazz soundtrack accents the internal nature of Teorema, as well as the abstract approach to narrative that Pasolini is implementing.
As Pasolini experiments with the parameters of narrative, the content of the film reflects his artistic search. The son of the factory boss is a young artist who has Roy Lichtenstein-esque comic book prints on his wall, and a book compiling the work of Francis Bacon. When Stamp's character leaves, the young man must try to find his voice as an artist. He urinates on a canvas, splashes paint, plays with shadow, and finds what he is looking for. This is a film that depicts life as art – the performative quality of finding one's self.
Through these artistic concepts, Pasolini's growth as an artist in the cinema is apparent. In his previous film, Oedipus Rex, the prologue and epilogue had a similar structure to the approach to narrative used in Teorema. Even before that, the passages of time in Mamma Roma and during the teachings of Christ in The Gospel According To St. Matthew demonstrate that this approach to plot and time has been within Pasolini's reach all along. Teorema is a culmination of that approach to time that Pasolini had given us glimpses of before, and he doesn't falter in his delivery of that vision.
My rating: 3.5/5