About Grant

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New York, NY, United States
Film director and screenwriter. Cinephile since birth. Director of DREAMS OF THE WAYWARD (2013). Film Studies MA student at Columbia University.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pasolini, or The 12 Days of Cinema - Day 8: "Medea" (1969)

     Yesterday (October 29th) was the eighth day of "Pasolini, or The 12 Days of Cinema", so Pier Paolo Pasolini's eighth feature film, Medea (1969), was the film for the night.  Going into this, I knew that it was an adaptation of Euripides' Medea (in the same way that Pasolini's 1967 film Oedipus Rex was an adaptation of Sophocles' story), so I anticipated that Medea would have a similar form.  Having already watched seven of Pasolini's films back to back, I should've known better than to think that Pasolini would repeat himself.  Even though I suggested that Pasolini's Porcile (1969) felt like a companion piece to Teorema (1968), Porcile is in no ways a repeat of what he had done before.  Unlike Oedipus Rex, Pasolini's Medea is less concerned with plot than it is capturing reality.
     "There is nothing natural in nature," says the centaur to Jason (Giuseppe Gentile).  Moments later, the centaur continues with, "Only those who are mythical are realistic, and only those who are realistic are mythical."  This is, perhaps, the thesis of Pasolini's adaptation of Medea.  Unlike Oedipus Rex, which realistically portrayed its source material with a poetic sensibility, Medea realistically abandons plot to focus on detail.  Almost like watching a documentary on ancient rituals, Pasolini's cinéma vérité approach to the story of Medea is more concerned with duration and reality.  Three years before Werner Herzog made Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Medea indulges in its scenery with a handheld aesthetic, emphasizes the people in the society around the protagonists, and has Pasolini's standard high production value.
     However, unlike Herzog's work, Pasolini's Medea feels incomplete.  Filled with long stretches without dialogue, jumps in time, and an undefined emotional arc for its protagonists, the film suffers regardless of its unique approach to Euripides' story.  Even then, when Pasolini makes a film that is an adaptation of a pre-existing piece of literature, he owes nothing to the original source material.  One could read the Bible along with Pasolini's 1964 adaptation of the Biblical book of Matthew (The Gospel According To St. Matthew), but the authorship of the film adaptation is in Pasolini's hands regardless of how faithful he chooses to remain to the source.
     Medea had the potential to be something extraordinary, but instead it comes across as lacking substance.  There are plenty of formal and technical elements of Medea that are filmically interesting, but they are at the service of a poorly executed film.  One of the most striking elements of this film is Pasolini's use of Tibetan monk music as a soundtrack for the violent rituals performed by Medea's constituents, but that's not enough to save the film... in fact, it raises more questions.

My rating: 2.5/5

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