Mamma Roma (1962)

“How you end up is your own fault.”

‘Mamma Roma’, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1962, tells the story of an ex-prostitute (who the film is named after), played by Anna Magnani, and her son. Mamma Roma tries to find work for her son in Rome but after finding out what she used to do for a living, he turns to crime and ends up in prison. It’s a powerful and earthy film, the character of Roma is a complex one respectable but willing to try anything, including inciting a pimp to help blackmail another prostitutes client. As with all of Pasolini’s films there’s also a complex relationship with the Church and religion in general. The shot of the dome of the church is a repeated motif and the central character is frequently shown at mass, but using the service as an opportunity to commentate on the locals or to try bargaining with the priest. The highlight of this film is Magnani’s performance and her iconic status in Italian (and Roman) cinema. This is the middle of three times I’ve seen her in films: the first at the beginning of her career in ‘Rome, Open City’, the second a cameo at the very end of her life in ‘Felini’s Roma’. Her role in ‘Mamma Roma’ is from the middle of her career, and in each case she somehow stands as a grand metaphor for her city: stoic and brave in 1945, impoverished and desperate following the collapse of the fascist government in 1962, and finally side-lined by the glitz and fakery of the city in 1972. This film is packed with iconic and meticulously filmed sequences, such as the shots of Mamma Roma’s son tied to a bed, effectively crucified, in prison, but it is Magnani’s charismatic and moving performance that gives the movie weight and historical significance. In these three roles for Rossellini, Pasolini and Fellini, Magnani helps tell the story of the recovery, fall and redevelopment of Rome after the devastation of the Second World War.

Would I recommend it? Yes – in a grand, epic triple bill of Roman movies: ‘Rome, Open City’, ‘Fellini’s Roma’ and this.

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