Teorema (1968, Pier Paolo Pasolini)


Terence Stamp in Teorema (1968). He seduces a whole family. He’s generous like that.

“I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.” – Pasolini

After The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), considered one of the most spiritual films ever made, controversial Italian director/poet/Catholic-turned-atheist Pasolini made a more bizarrely religious film. Reversing the minimalist, neo-realist approach in The Gospel, Teorema resulted in a strange, atmospheric curio many consider one of his lesser works, so opaque is its content. It depicts a mysterious Christlike stranger as a life-altering catalyst for an entire family, seducing everyone (regardless of gender or social order) and exerting uniquely devastating effects on each member, most of them having misunderstood the new perspective they’ve received. As one blog describes, Pasolini “knew how to push buttons and he detonated a social-religious-cinematic bomb casting of Terence Stamp in such a role.” Even detractors note the mesmerizing displays of expressiveness in the film’s strangely beautiful faces, characteristic of Pasolini’s entire oeuvre. Furthermore, “the idea of the creature that breaks into the deepest corners of our existence has been told countless times with different objectives in mind. In Pasolini’s hands, this story becomes a socio-sexual political fable as profound as it is outrageous – an indictment (even if hopelessly affectionate) of the new upper classes.” Its release “divided believers and atheists as much as critics”. Containing only 923 words, the dreamlike film flows more like a poem, aided by Ennio Morricone’s score, Mozart’s Requiem and the outstanding long-take cinematography of Giuseppe Ruzzolini.





Above: Salvador Dali’s design for the deleted ballroom scene in the dream sequence from Spellbound (1945, dir. Alfred Hitchcock)

Below: Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in the ballroom scene

“In order to create this impression [of oppressiveness and unease], I will have to hang fifteen of the heaviest and most lavish pianos possible from the ceiling of the ballroom, swinging very low over the heads of the dancers. These would be in exalted dance poses, but they would not move at all, they would only be diminishing silhouettes in a very accelerated perspective, losing themselves in infinite darkness.”

[Spellbound producer David O. Selznick, worried about costs, decided to suspend miniature pianos from the ceiling. To correct the consequent problems with perspective, the studio employed forty dwarfs to dance in the scene]

“The miniature pianos didn’t at all give the impression of real pianos suspended from ropes ready to crack and casting sinister shadows on the ground…and the dwarfs, one saw, simply, that they were dwarfs. Neither Hitchcock nor I liked the result and we decided to eliminate this scene. In truth, the imagination of Hollywood experts will be the one thing that will ever have surpassed me.”

-Salvador Dali, Dali News, 20 Nov. 1945