Considerations about Pier Paolo Pasolini's debut film

Based on an idea by Lino Micciché, we could say that social misfit (Beggar, 1961)[1] born under the sign of Jean-Paul Sartre, on the existential level, and Jean Cocteau, from the cinematographic point of view. In fact, for Sartre, man, when he dies, is nothing more than the sum of his own acts, and, for Cocteau, cinema documents “death in action”. AND social misfit is the long journey of Vittorio (whose nickname “Beggar” means beggar, that is, a person who does not live from his own work) towards death, seen by Pasolini as the only way to escape an adverse social condition. The entire film is punctuated by images and dialogues, which, when not directly referring to death, refer us to it.

The socket that opens social misfit, right after the signs, is a medium shot of Scucchia, a resident of a peripheral neighborhood in Rome, carrying a bunch of flowers, as if he were going to a funeral. In the dialogue that follows, the idea of ​​death will be present several times. One of the young men on the pimps' circle asks him if he hasn't died yet, because work kills. Scucchia counters that they look like they came out of the legal medical institute and Accattone begins to talk about the death of a companion, Barbarone, who, according to him, died of fatigue and not indigestion, when trying to swim across the Tiber, shortly after lunch. When provoked by one of the boys, Accattone accepts the challenge of repeating the same feat that killed the other.

After a hearty meal, during which they talk about how the burial will be, Accattone is ready for the feat. As he jumps into the water, in the first frame, he shares the field with one of Bernini's sculptures that adorn the Ponte Sant'Angelo, an angel carrying a large cross, reminiscent of funerary statuary. The dialectal songs that appear in these opening sequences of the film have the same theme: the local, roman boat, narrates the suicide of a girl for love and the Neapolitan, fenesta ca lucive, tells of the death of a young woman. If these are quick references, as the narrative progresses, the signs become more and more evident.

Having nothing to live for, after the arrest of Maddalena, the prostitute he exploited, Accattone tries to reconcile with Ascensa, his wife. As you walk along a long, sunny road, you hear the death knell of a small bell. Seeing him pass by, a friend, the thief Balilla, crosses himself, as if he were seeing a lost soul, and tells him that the cemetery is on the other side. Shortly after, a burial crosses their path and, for a moment, the two will run parallel, but in opposite directions. When he crosses with the funeral procession, two children make the sign of the cross.

We will also have some funeral references, before the end of the film (such as, for example, when seeing that his son Iaio does not recognize him, Accattone says that he is that poor soul of his father; when, when fighting with his brother-in-law, he threatens him of death and his father-in-law tries to attack him with a knife, after asking him a curse; when Maddalena, when denouncing him, screams that he is not worthy of living in this world), in which the character's death is preceded by a premonitory dream, in which the long sunny road returns.

In the dream, Accattone, after being called by the four Neapolitans who appear at the beginning of the film, realizes that they are dead and then finds his friends who, carrying flowers, are going to their own funeral. Wearing the same black clothes as these, he tries to follow them, but first he finds Balilla and sees the funeral procession go by, like when he went to look for his ex-wife. Upon reaching the cemetery he is stopped, so he jumps over the wall and, seeing the gravedigger open his grave in the shadows, asks him to dig it in the light.

Once the dream is over, just before the end of the film, when Accattone, for not having endured the job, decides to become a thief, we still have two moments that refer to the idea of ​​death: the first, when Balilla is sitting in a cart among the flowers; the second, when the three thieves are resting and Accattone tells Cartagine, the other thief who took off his shoes, that he stinks more being alive than being dead. After that, there is the final theft that determines the death of the character, which quickly ends the film.

The long road to the death of this being who lived on the margins of society was also marked by moments in which he sought redemption, when, in love with Stella, whom he met while working at Ascensa, he is unable to prostitute her and tries to work to support her. . When considering the trajectory of the protagonist, we realize that, by portraying him without any trace of self-consciousness, which justifies a certain purity of attitudes and feelings, Pasolini did so in an epic way, as Accattone is the bearer of an “innocent and primitive primitivism”. desperately vital” (in the words of Micciché), and immersed it in a sacred atmosphere, translated not only by the music of Bach – Passion according to Saint Matthew – but above all because of the parallel that it is often possible to establish between his life and that of Christ.

The predestination to death, existing, as we have already demonstrated, from the first takes; the sequence in the tavern, with the four Neapolitans, in which Accattone's pose, when feeling sick, refers to pictorial models of last suppers; the prison; the humiliation he is subjected to after the fight at his ex-wife's house, when he leaves insulted by his brother-in-law, as if it were one of the seasons of Way of the Cross; the very names of the three women in his life, one that alludes to sin (Maddalena), two that remind us of redemption (Ascensa, Stella); resting in the back of a van, where her framing of her face brings to mind the hanging head of a dead Christ; the phrase he exclaims at the end of his work day (“God's will be done”); the end of his journey in the company of two thieves and his resigned death authorize a religious reading of the film. Pasolini himself, by the way, in an interview given to the magazine Black and White, in 1964, recognized this epic-religious characteristic of his poetics:

“Deep down, my world view is always of an epic-religious type; even and especially in the miserable characters, characters who are outside of a historical conscience, and in this concrete case, outside of a bourgeois conscience, these epic-religious elements play a very important role. Misery, due to its intrinsic characteristics, is always epic, and the elements that enter into the psychology of a miserable person, a poor person, a lumpenproletarian, are always in a certain way pure, because they are deprived of conscience and, therefore, essential. This way of seeing the world of the poor, of the lumpenproletarians, is underlined, I believe, not only in the music, but also in the very style of my films. Music is the, shall we say, cutting-edge element, the clamorous element, the almost visible garb of a more interior stylistic fact. (...) It is nothing more than the attire, I repeat, of a way of being, of seeing things, feeling the characters, a way that is realized in the fixity, in a certain hierarchical way, of my framings (...), fixity – that which I jokingly call it romantic – in the characters, in the frontality of the framings, in the almost austere, almost solemn simplicity of the panoramic views (…). Much has been said of Accattone's intimate religion, of the fatalism of his psychology (…). But only through technical processes and styles can one recognize the real value of that religiosity: which becomes approximate and 'journalistic' in those who identify it with the contents, explicit or implicit. Definitively, religiosity was not so much in the character's supreme need for personal salvation (from explorer to thief!) or, from an external perspective, in the fatality, which determines and concludes everything, of a final sign of the cross, but was 'in the way of see the world': in the technical sacredness of seeing it”.

The interview is quite significant for the analysis we proposed, especially when Pasolini says that his miserable characters are “outside a historical conscience”, “outside a bourgeois conscience”, that “the elements that enter into the psychology of (...) a lumpen-proletarian are always in a certain way pure, because deprived of conscience” and that “the religiosity was not so much in the character's supreme need for personal salvation (…), of a final sign of the cross, but was 'in the way of seeing the world'".

These characteristics, pointed out by the author himself, allow us to touch on some crucial points. In fact, the characters of social misfit belong to the sphere of those who do not have access to the political and social reality of the country, because they inhabit the fringes of that society, therefore living outside of history, since they are not its actors. This historical condemnation, to which they seem destined, is embodied in the film in that kind of wall of skyscrapers (an indication of the neo-capitalist development of Italy that rebuilds itself, after the end of the war), which, by marking the limit between the city and the periphery seems to close the lumpen-proletariat inside a ghetto.

It is not, however, a contemporary condition and this in the film is evident in the name chosen for the two thieves who accompany Accattone to his death: Balilla, who comes to recall the misery imposed by Fascism, whose order Italian society of those years seemed to emulate. (“balilla”, during the fascist vicenium, were boys between 8 and 14 years old who were part of paramilitary formations), and above all Cartagine (Carthage), which goes back to the beginnings of Italian history. This reading is inspired by the following words by Pasolini:

“The lumpen-proletariat (…) is, only apparently, contemporary with our history. The characteristics of the lumpen-proletariat are prehistoric, they are definitely pre-Christian, the moral world of a lumpen-proletariat does not know Christianity. My characters, for example, do not know what love is in the Christian sense, their morality is the typical morality of the whole of southern Italy, founded on honor. The philosophy of these characters, although reduced to crumbs, to the smallest terms, is a pre-Christian philosophy of the Stoic-Epicureian type, which survived the Roman world and passed through Byzantine, papal or Bourbonist domination unscathed. The psychological world of the lumpen-proletariat is practically prehistoric, while the bourgeois world is evidently the world of history.”

Being prehistoric means not having conscience, it means living a mythical innocence, it means opposing the repressive order, it means not being contaminated by bourgeois logic. A non-contamination that also manifests itself in the language of Accattone and his companions, who do not know the standard language, the unitary language of the peninsula. In this too, and not only in the theme and treatment given to the characters, lies the common matrix between social misfit and the first two novels that Pasolini published, boys of life (Life boys, 1955) e a violent life (A violent life, 1959), in which he already rejected the linguistic means that the bourgeois tradition offered and created a new language, a mixture of Roman dialect, southern dialects and criminal slang, with which to give voice to the popular classes, to the marginalized layers of national life.

In relation to the two books, the film did not come, through thematic repetition, to close a cycle, but rather to deepen, through cinema's own means, Pasolin's literary discourse. If, however, in a violent life, the novel to which the film has been closest by critics, Tommasino dies, but the class to which he belongs is saved, in social misfit, with the death of Accattone, only he is saved, because, as the author himself said, his crisis is “a totally individual crisis: it takes place not only in the scope of his unreflected and unconscious personality, but also in the scope of his unreflected and unconscious social condition I forced myself to see what was going on inside the soul of a lumpenproletarian from the Roman periphery (I insist on saying that this is not an exception, but a typical case of at least half of Italy); and there I recognized all the ancient evils (and all the ancient and innocent good of the pure life). I could not help noticing: their material and moral misery, their ferocious and useless irony, their blatant and obsessive eagerness, their disdainful indolence, their idealless sensuality, and, mixed with all this, their atavistic, superstitious pagan Catholicism. Therefore, Accattone dreams of death and paradise. Therefore, only death can 'fix' its pale and confused act of surrender. There is no other solution around him, just as there is no other solution for a huge number of people similar to him. A case like Tommasino's is much, much rarer than a case like Accattone's. With Tommasino I created a drama, with Accattone a tragedy: a tragedy without hope, because I suspect that few viewers will see a meaning of hope in the sign of the cross with which the film ends”.

In fact, if in Balilla's gesture there is no hint of hope, as he makes the sign of the cross with his handcuffed hands, Accattone's death is not exemplary for anyone either, because he alone frees himself from the daily tragedy that is living for people of their social status. If he accepts death smiling and exclaims: “Aaaah… Now I'm fine!”, the others will continue to live in this “calvary” in which, as Sandro Petraglia says, “gigantic shadows are projected of a system based on the exploitation of man and in the absence of real values”.

Therefore, despite the religiosity that permeates the film (not a Christian religiosity, despite all the parallels we could draw, but, as we have seen, a religiosity of primitive peoples), Accattone's death does not redeem as a collective fact (overcoming his own class condition), but only as an individual fact, since ideologically rescuing an entire class would be equivalent to escaping from the ghetto and entering the other logic, that of capitalist work, the logic of the bourgeois universe, which the character rejects, although unconsciously emulates (in the exploration pimping, wandering the city streets for eight hours before managing to steal anything). And that's something Pasolini didn't want to subject Accattone to.

At various moments in the film, the idea of ​​work is linked to the idea of ​​sacrifice, exploitation, death, something profane: for example, when the pimps ask Scucchia if work doesn't kill and they call him a martyr; when Sabino, Vittorio's younger brother, tells him that he is going to work and one of the boys exclaims that he has cursed; when Stella comments that at work they only pay her what she needs so as not to die of hunger; when Accattone associates the place where he works for a day with a concentration camp (Buchenwald). This violent refusal of any work activity, which would allow one to leave the condition of lumpen-proletarian for that of proletarian, is linked to the fact that this would mean establishing an order where anarchy predominates, and the idea of ​​order, as Leonardo Sciascia recalls, in Italy it immediately evokes the idea of ​​fascism. In this sense, we must take into account that Accattone's trajectory unfolded in the summer season of 1960, that is, in correspondence with a period during which, in the country, the air of neo-fascist restoration was breathed. As Pasolini himself observed,

"social misfit it was born in a moment of discomfort, that is, during the summer of Tambroni's government. That's why, social misfit is, in a sense, a regression with respect to a violent life. a violent life it was born in the fifties, before the Stalinist crisis, when hope, from the perspective of the Resistance and the post-war period, was still alive, it was a real fact, which made the prospect of a violent life (…) the journey of Tommaso Puzzilli through contradictory phases, passing from pure fascism-arrogance to the temptation of an orderly Christian-democratic life and finally to communism. None of this exists in social misfit. Effectively, from a point of view, let's say, of a strictly communist ethics, social misfit regresses and is, in a certain way, an involution in relation to a violent life. (…) In the book, in addition to the social denouncement, the description of a certain environment, I had also presented an explicit solution to the problems of this world, forcing my character to make a declared choice, that is, to choose, albeit confusingly, , the Communist Party. On the contrary, in social misfit, a bit like in boys of life, the social problem is limited to being a denunciation, an element of fact, which only assumes greater importance because boys of life it was a denunciation that appeared towards the end of the post-war period, and therefore had an obvious side. social misfit, on the contrary, it takes place in the time of capitalist well-being, and therefore the denunciation itself is more crude, since it corresponds to saying that half of Italy, from Rome downwards, is not the Italy of capitalist well-being”.

When remembering, as he had done in his novels, the pockets of misery that persisted in a country that was rapidly marching towards the tree economic, and, at the same time, by not finding a solution to this contemporary tragedy in an awareness, since at the end of Accattone's path there is no hope, Pasolini once again displeased everyone, especially on the left, who said that the film presented a mistaken ideological vision.

As Lino Micciché suggests, however, this criticism has no reason to exist, since social misfit “it is not offered, in any way, as an ideological representation of the proletarian condition, but only as an application to a lumpen-proletarian world (…) of the 'ideology of death' that torments and excites the bourgeois intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini. With Accattone, therefore, a 'historical' lumpen-proletarian from the suburbs does not die, but a first hypothesis of death is formally concretized that starts from the interior Pasolinian universe and seeks to verify its validity in the representation of a reality (…). In this sense, it matters little to measure the reality of the work with that of the lumpen-proletariat that it intends to represent (and in relation to which it is worth, sociologically speaking, as a 'denounce film'). (…) It is important, however, to refer the reality of the work to a worldview that had already been defined in Pasolini's poetic and literary antecedents as laden with omens of death. (…) The truth is that the 'prehistoric' condition of the lumpen-proletariat allows Pasolini to openly carry forward his discourse on death, as the conclusion most logically embedded in the premise. Death, for Pasolini, is not, or is not so much, the biochemical conclusion of biological existence, as the law that characterizes existence, the sovereign drive, the obligatory and definitive conclusion (the only definitive and, therefore, the only truly necessary ) of any discourse and of any existence: and therefore the only, predominant, tension of reality”.

Therefore, death is for Accattone the only possible solution to a dead end social condition. Therefore, only death can allow him to reach the shore of redemption.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Italian cinematographic neo-realism: a reading (Edusp).

Revised version of the article “The edge of redemption: considerations on Accattone”, published in Revista de Italianística no. 1, 1993.



Pasolini Cycle 60's. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1985 [the Portuguese translation of Pasolini's testimonies underwent some modifications].

FABRIS, Mariarosaria. “Language as ideology”. Language and Literature, Sao Paulo, no. 15, 1986.

MICCICHE, Lino. Italian cinema of the 60s. Venice: Marsilio, 1975.

PETRAGLIA, Sandro. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1974.

SCIASCIA, Leonardo. “Il mio contesto”. L'Espresso, Rome, year XXXV, n. 50-51, 24 Dec. 1989.



[1] Although not agreeing with the title given in Brazil to Pasolini's debut film, it was adopted so as not to create confusion between the work and the character. So that the reader can better follow the proposed analysis, here is the synopsis of social misfit: Accattone is a pimp, who lives off the prostitute Maddalena, who, in order to stay with him, had denounced the man who previously exploited her. With his arrest, Accattone had started to support his wife and children. One day, Accattone is sought out by four Neapolitans, one of whom is a friend of Maddalena's former pimp; at night, they go looking for the prostitute to avenge their friend, giving him a violent beating. At the police station, Maddalena, unable to identify her aggressors among the various men she has to contend with (and Accattone is among them), ends up blaming some of the boys in her neighborhood, to take revenge for a joke they had played on her. The lie, however, is discovered and she is arrested for false testimony. With nothing to live on, Accattone starts selling his jewelry and, in the end, goes to look for Ascensa, his ex-wife; at her work, he meets Stella, a naive young woman. Rejected by his wife and her family, he sees in Stella the possibility of turning things around. To conquer the girl, who is very poor, he buys her a pair of shoes and, for that, he steals his son's little gold chain. Stella resigns herself to prostituting herself for the love of Accattone, but, to his great relief, she is unable to. Meanwhile, in jail, Maddalena, upon learning from another prostitute who was arrested that Accattone got a new woman, to get revenge, denounces him and he starts to be watched by the police. Accattone is in love and for this love he is willing to face any sacrifice, even to work, but he can only hold out for one day and, in order to survive, he goes to look for the thief Balilla to associate with him and Cartagine. After a long day roaming the streets of Rome, the three get nothing, until they see a cold cuts truck, from which they steal some cheese and a ham. The police surround them, and while Balilla and Cartagine are handcuffed, Accattone takes a motorbike and flees. Soon after the bike skids, Accattone falls and dies. The two friends run to the bridge, and as Accattone expires, Balilla makes the sign of the cross.

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