Oedipus Rex and Amore e Rabbia

There are two initial questions I'd like to ask you about Oedipus. The first is about Sophocles' text. This is the only case apart from The Gospel where you could be said to be working with someone else's script - did you keep to it verbally (because you obviously didn't structurally) as close as you did to Matthew's text? The second is about your interpretation of the Oedipus myth, which is a basically anti-Freudian one ; you've given a lot more emphasis to the parricide than to the incest. The myth is an amalgam anyway, so it's an interesting approach because the two things are fairly separate.

I'm not very well prepared to answer this, because I've really never thought about it. I think the two things are complementary - incest is not possible with the mother unless there's parricide as well. If I remember right, the two have an equal importance in Sophocles' text. You've just pointed out that in my film the parricide comes out more than the incest, certainly emotively if not quantitatively, but I think this is fairly natural because historically I have put myself in a relationship of rivalry and hatred towards my father, so I am freer in the way I represent my relationship towards him, whereas my love for my mother has remained something latent. Even if I understand it rationally, it is difficult to accept it in ail its fullness. Perhaps I was inhibited in representing it artistically while I let myself go in the way I represented the parricide. This must be due quite simply to Freudian reasons, presumably. I hadn't realized it before ; but you're right.

In the Prologue you made a very deliberate choice of having a scene where the father says to the baby : "You're stealing my wife's love." This is a bit outside the usual Freudian concept of the myth. In fact you're setting up good reasons for the baby to hate his father.

I wanted to make the film freely. When I made it I had two objectives : first, to make a kind of completely metaphoric - and therefore mythicized - autobiography ; and second to confront both the problem of psycho-analysis and the problem of the myth. But instead of projecting the myth on to psycho-analysis, I have re-projected psycho-analysis on the myth. This was the fondamental operation in Oedipus. But I kept very free, I followed up all my aspirations and impulses. I didn't deny myself a single one. Now, the father's resentment towards his son is something I felt more distinctly than the relationship between the son and the mother, because the relationship between a son and his mother is not a historical relationship, it is a purely interior, private relationship, which is outside history, indeed is meta-historical, and therefore ideologically improductive, whereas what produces history is the relationship of hatred and love between father and son, so naturally this interested me more than the one between son and mother. I have felt my love for my mother very, very deeply, and ail my work is influenced by this, but it is an influence whose origin is deep down inside me and, as I said, rather outside history. While everything ideological, voluntary, active and practical in my actions as a writer depends on my struggle with my father. That's why I put in things which weren't in Sophocles, but which I don't think are outside psycho-analysis, because psycho-analysis talks about the super-ego represented by the father repressing the child ; so in a way I just applied psycho-analytic notions in the way I felt.

There are two immediate problems about filming the myth the way you did. One is that the myth is collective ; it is the summation of a collective reaction to certain problems. The second is that these problems were historical problems, problems with a precise location in history, such as the transition from a matriarchal to a patriarchal society. You've put it outside history, very explicitly. I found there was a tension between the Prologue, which is personal {which is the best part of the film), and the part in Morocco which is an attempt to portray a collective myth through an individual. Perhaps this is because the Prologue is an attempt to represent just your own Oedipus complex, but it's more difficult to make a film about the collective myth because no one person actually has the whole 'Oedipus complex'. I found this a bit of a jump.

I think the reason for that is that the beginning is the most inspired part of the film, because it is a fairly particular evocation of my early childhood ; it is not an emotional evocation, it is strictly functional and synthetic, so this forced me to be lyrical, as one always has to be with memory, but at the same time to keep very tight control of the material. I think the Prologue in Oedipus is one of the best things I have ever done. Obviously the evocation of the myth is less inspired and more deliberate. I wanted to re-create the myth under the aspect of a dream : I wanted all the central part of the film (which is almost the whole movie) to be a kind of dream, and this explains the choice of costumes and settings, the general rhythm of the work. I wanted it to be a kind of aestheticizing dream. Maybe the middle part isn't so good, but I don't think it's because we don't all have the whole myth in us. I wanted to represent the myth like a dream, and I could only present this dream by aestheticizing it ; and perhaps this is what is disturbing.

Surely another problem about tackling the Oedipus question through Sophocles is that the causes of neurosis are represented by a god or gods. Everything in Sophocles is outside human control - the family only want to get rid of Oedipus because the gods have told them there'll be trouble if they don't. In the Sophocles text remote causes get pushed out of human range and the whole thing becomes an uncontrollable tragedy.

This is exactly what I tried to emphasize, because that is what I liked most in Sophocles, the fact that the person who has to encounter all these problems should be the person most unprepared for all this, someone who is completely innocent. People in Italy criticized me for not making Oedipus an intellectual, because everyone in Italy imagines Oedipus as an intellectual, but I think that is a mistake because an intellectual's vocation is to seek things out ; as soon as an intellectual sees something that doesn't work, by vocation he begins to look into it. Whereas Oedipus is exactly the opposite : he is the person who does not want to look into things, like all innocent people, those who live their lives as the prey of life and of their own emotions. That is the thing in Sophocles that inspired me the most : the contrast between total innocence and the obligation to know. It wasn't so much the cruelty of life that produces crimes, but the fact that these crimes are done because people don't try to understand history, life and reality.

But understanding doesn't help either. He does go off and talk to Francesco Leonetti, but even when he knows what's happened he's still back exactly where he was before. That''s pretty pessimistic.

Yes, the film is very pessimistic. By the time Oedipus gets to understand it's no use to him. Certainly, one could always play with the hypothesis that if Oedipus had not been so fatally innocent and unconscious, if he had been an intellectual and had first sought out the truth he might have been able to alter reality. The only hope is a cultural one, to be an intellectual. As for the rest I am consistently pessimistic.

It is something that comes up quite a lot in your films ; for example, the end of Comizi d'Amore is based on the antithesis between consciousness and unawareness : the poem you read there is a plea for consciousness, but in general the impression is that you don't think it helps very much. If you're done y ou're done.

Well, that's always in me. But I also have a rational tendency in me to be paraenetic towards consciousness and rationality and knowledge, precisely because I am basically irrational and innocent like Oedipus and, at bottom, ignorant. As a reaction I concoct these endorsements of consciousness.

What about where Oedipus says "Now ail is clear, willed, it is not destiny" - at a point where it seems that everything is indeed destiny, and not willed at all ?

That is an absolutely mysterious phrase, which I have never been able to understand ; but it is in Sophocles. The exact phrase is : "There, now all is clear, willed, not imposed by destiny." I cannot understand the phrase, but I find it wonderful, precisely because it is enigmatic and incomprehensible. There is a subtlety underneath which is hard to explain. There is something very clear in the phrase, I feel it could be explained, but I can't do it. Anyway, it's a verse from Sophocles which I lifted just as it stands.

In general, did you leave Sophocles' text much as it was? You added one or two things like the Sphinx, didn't you ?

There is a whole background to the story which is told inside the tragedy, which the audience would have known about. In the film this part is almost silent ; there is just the odd phrase which I invented like for the Sphinx episode and one or two other things. Basically it is silent. Then there is the second part, the real action which is in Sophocles' Oedipus, after the plague and Creon's arrivai, and there I have followed Sophocles' text faithfully.

That's your own translation ?

Yes, I did a special translation, which is very straightforward and faithful to the original.

What about the music ?

That is Rumanian folk-music. Initially I thought of shooting Oedipus in Rumania, so I did a trip there to look for locations. But it was not suitable ; Rumania is a modem country ; the countryside is in the middle of an industrial revolution ; all the old wood villages are being destroyed, there's nothing old left. So I gave up the idea of doing it there, but in recompense I found some folk-tunes which I liked a lot because they are extremely ambiguous : they are half-way between Slav, Greek and Arab songs, they are indefinable : it is unlikely that anyone who didn't have specialized knowledge could locate them ; they are a bit outside history. As I wanted to make Oedipus a myth, I wanted music which was a-historical, a-temporal.

But there's some Japanese music in there, too.

Yes, there is one bit of Japanese music, chosen for the same reason.

Can you explain why you wanted to put it outside history - a-historical - given the two points raised earlier : that you yourself are in history and the myth also belongs to history ?

Well, the myth is a product, so to speak, of human history ; but then having become a myth it has become absolute, it is no longer typical of this or that period of history, it's typical, let's say, of all history. Perhaps I was wrong to say it is a-historic, it is meta- historical.

There were two scenes that seemed to be shot in a peculiar way : one was when Oedipus visits the Oracle at Delphi, and then the scene at Bologna at the end - did you use special lenses for these ?

Not for the scene at Delphi, no. I shot that with normal lenses. The oddness there probably comes from the montage, because I shot the same thing part of the time with Oedipus by himself and part of the time with the crowd and put the two together - perhaps that's what gives the sense of strangeness there is in the Oracle scene. For the last part in the modem age, I used distorting wide-angled lenses because coming back suddenly to the modem world could not be done naturalistically, the transition would have been too brusque ; the physical distortion made the transition from meta-history to contemporary history less brusque, it helped to maintain the dream atmosphere.

Why do you think it would have been too brusque otherwise, given that the cinema is both dream and reality already ?

Well, it is still brusque anyway : the audience is shocked by the transition. But I didn't mean brusque in the sense of content, I meant it in the formai sense. I had to find some stylistic attenuation.

In the Epilogue there are two kinds of music connected with themes that are known in Italy : one tune is connected with the left and the other with the bourgeoisie, is that right ?

The Epilogue is what Freud calls the 'sublimation'. Once Oedipus has blinded himself he re-enters society by sublimating all his faults. One of the forms of sublimation is poetry. He plays the pipe, which means, metaphorically, he is a poet. First he plays for the bourgeoisie, and he plays the old Japanese music connected with the Oracle - ancestral, private, confessional music, music that could be defined in one word as decadent : this is a kind of evocation of the primitive, of his origins ; then, disgusted by the bourgeoisie, he goes off and plays his pipe (i.e. goes off and acts as a poet) to the workers, and there he plays a tune which was one of the songs of the Resistance : it was a Russian folk-tune which some Italian soldiers learnt in Russia and was sung during the Resistance as a revolutionary song.

When you were talking about Orgia [see pages 140-1] the other day, you said the only words in the film would be when somebody says what enormous pleasure he got from killing his father. Obviously one of the frustrating things in the Oedipus myth is that everything is unconscious - if someone wants to kill his father he might as well at least get pleasure out of it. So would it be right to see Orgia as a development of the Oedipus problem in that sense ?

Orgia is not a myth, it is a film with a thesis. The person does everything innocently, but just before he dies he realizes what pleasure he felt doing ail these things. In taste, the sensuality of its images, in costumes and faces Orgia will probably be more like The Gospel than Oedipus : it will link up with all my other films, of course, but it will be more a film with a thesis.

You've shot an episode of Vangelo '70 (1) as well.

Yes, it's called II Fico Innocente, I think. It's very short, only twelve minutes. Initially it was just one long tracking shot all the way up the Via Nazionale in Rome. It's still twelve minutes long, but I've cut in two or three different shots. Vangelo'70 is supposed to be inspired by parables or bits in the Gospels, so for my episode I chose the innocent fig tree - you remember where Christ wants to pick some figs but because it's March the tree hasn't produced any figs yet so he curses it. This is an episode which has always been very mysterious to me and there are several contradictory interpretations of it. The way I've interpreted it goes like this : that there are moments in history when one cannot be innocent, one must be aware ; not to be aware is to be guilty. So I got Ninetto to walk up Via Nazionale and while he's walking along without a thought in his head and completely innocent a number of images of some of the important and dangerous things happening in the world pass superimposed across the Via Nazionale - things he is not aware of like the Vietnam War, relations between the West and the East and so on ; these are just shadows which pass above him which he does not know about. Then at a certain moment you hear the voice of God in the middle of the traffic urging him to know, to be aware, but like the fig tree he does not understand because he is immature and innocent and so at the end God condemns him and makes him die.

(1) The title of the film was later changed from Vangelo'70 to Amore e Rabbia and the title of Pasolini's sequence in it from Il Fico innocente to La Fiore di Campo [sic. En fait, La Fiore di Carta, La fleur en papier. NdlR)

Oswald Stack, Pasolini on Pasolini, Thames and Hudson, 1969 pp.119-129