Luigi Pirandello and Michelangelo Antonioni



Affinities between the novel “The deceased Mattia Pascal” and the film Passenger: profession reporter”.

The late Mattia Pascal (The late Mattia Pascal, 1904) is Luigi Pirandello's first major mature work, in which, as literary critic Alfredo Bosi points out, the “bitter feeling of exile”, already expressed in previous novels, expands from the narrative point of view. It is the desire to escape, to live another life, to be reborn, free from social impositions.

This evasion, however, will prove to be impossible, since, through fictitious death, Mattia Pascal, instead of having a new existence like Adriano Meis, will have a non-existence – a civil death, without papers, therefore, without identity – , which it will only come out of by returning to what it was before. In that sense, his last name Pascal could be linked to Easter, i.e. resurrection. Mattia, then, would be the one who rose again, the one who returned from death.

He met death twice, as a result of his escapes motivated by dissatisfaction with his own life and the impossibility of being someone else: the first time, when, in the creek that moved the mill of one of his former properties, the corpse of a man in whom everyone recognizes Mattia Pascal, who, in this way, dies for society; the second, by simulating the suicide of Adriano Meis in the waters of the Tiber in order to assume his former (and true) identity and wait serenely for his “third, last and definitive death” in his hometown, where he had resumed his work as a librarian, going, from time to time, to visit his grave in the cemetery, to see himself "dead and buried".

The novel was written by Pirandello as if it were a philosophical tale, and this is evident in the protagonist's considerations about life and death, often tinged with humor, others with pessimism.1. Talking about a philosophical tale takes us to another Pascal – Blaise Pascal –, who, in the notes that will constitute his final work, Pansies (Thoughts, 1670), had addressed the theme of the infinite “misery” of man without God as opposed to his “greatness” when he starts to believe, developing his ability to think and be aware.

In this regard, it is interesting to refer to some observations of the writer Leonardo Sciascia, according to whom, suggested by the “sublime French misanthrope, Pirandello, who was also a misanthrope, gave his character the surname Pascal, which contrasts humorously with the name Mattia. Because this Sicilian form of Matteo refers to mattia (as a synonym for madness, madness), that is to say, to a soft madness, a kind of momentary vacation that genius takes to rest from more serious, darker thoughts”. This reading is actually suggested in the novel by the narrator himself, when, in front of Mattia who has risen, the brother exclaims: “– Mattia, I always said, Mattia, crazy… Mad! Mad! Mad!". And momentary vacation seems to be the first days of Mattia Pascal as Adriano Meis.

Luigi Pirandello is one of the writers with the most works adapted for cinema and television. There are more than forty achievements that were inspired by his novels, soap operas and plays or original scripts of his authorship. It would be enough to remember La canzone dell'amore (1930), taken from the telenovela In silence (1905), with which Giovanni Righelli inaugurated sound cinema in Italy; Kaos (1984), in which Paolo and Vittorio Taviani brought seven of the Short stories for a year (Novels for a year, collected in volume in 1923); two films directed by Marco Bellocchio, Henry IV (Henry IV, 1983-1984), adaptation of the homonymous play (1921), and The nurse (the wet nurse, 2000), an instigating cinematographic transposition of one of the least brilliant Pirandellian novels (1903), to which, like the Taviani brothers, the director gave an ideological dimension strange to the original; It is The wait (Waiting, 2015), by Piero Messina, a delicate drama about maternal love that remains alive even in the absence of the son, extracted from the play The life I gave you (1923), in turn based on the novels The camera in attesa (1916) andRetirees of memory (1914)

Pirandello's relationship with cinema, however, is broader, as the writer expressed his ideas about the seventh art also in some interviews and, mainly, in the novel If it turns (1915-1916), later transformed into Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio operator (Notebooks by Serafino Gubbio operator, 1925), in which he questions himself about the dehumanization of man in front of the camera.

Returning to The late Mattia Pascal, which is considered one of Luigi Pirandello’s masterpieces, had “officially” three cinematographic adaptations: Feu Mathias Pascal (1924-1925), by Marcel L'Herbier; L'homme de nulle parte (1936-1937) by Pierre Chenal2; The due life of Mattia Pascal (The Two Lives of Mattia Pascal, 1984-1985), by Mario Monicelli.

Of the three versions, the one that strays the most from the Pirandellian spirit is the most recent, since, in Monicelli's reading, very little remains of Mattia Pascal's philosophy: the director was only interested in the interplay, which, when transposed to the present, it has lost that up-to-date character (in the sense of always up-to-date) that is distinguished in the novel, becoming banal, if not vulgar. Despite some of the film's good findings – the closed framing of the first shots, suggesting an embarrassing situation, accentuated by the wind, to which Nicola Piovani's music is harmoniously coupled – and the director's appreciation for the novel, the final result leaves much to be desired. to wish. Monicelli considered Mattia Pascal “an anticipatory character, very modern, contradictory, anguished, and in search of an identity”, adding: “isn’t someone who searches for his specific identity in the world, without finding it, a man of today?”.

However, he disliked his physical appearance (and that of his creator), which is why he entrusted the role to Marcello Mastroianni, making the protagonist rather a veal (good life) Fellinian. The actor does not have physique du role, is too beautiful for the role and, in his characterization, we miss that Mattia Pascal eye that, significantly, evades, because it had the tendency to “look, on its own, elsewhere”3. And this is not an insignificant detail in the construction of the Pirandellian character, especially if we remember that it is after “straightening” his eye (that is, adjusting the focus of his gaze) that Adriano Meis returns to being Mattia Pascal, realizing the impossibility of evasion from yourself.

Pierre Chenal too, when performing L'homme de nulle parte – whose dialogues, written by poet and playwright Roger Vitrac,4 were revised by Pirandello himself (who died during filming, on December 10, 1936) –, uses only the story of Mattia Pascal, modifying its outcome, since the protagonist, thanks to false documents, officially becomes Adriano Meis and returns to Rome to marry his beloved.

This solution, however, is not original, as it was the same as that given in Feu Mathias Pascal. Although Marcel L'Herbier changed the structure of the novel, the film is faithful to the Pirandellian spirit in its mixture of the tragic and the comic, in the presence of humor exactly as it was understood by the writer, that is, that notice of the contrary (feeling of the opposite), which is born from seeing oneself live and which leads men to accept the split between life and conscience as an indispensable condition for social interaction.

The expressionist-surrealist mood of Feu Mathias Pascal is underlined not only by the sober interpretation of Ivan Ilitch Mosjoukine (which excited Pirandello, who probably saw the film in Paris, in September 1925), but also by the unusual scenography by Alberto Cavalcanti and his collaborators, interspersed with some realistic shots taken in San Gimignano (in Tuscany) and in Rome: abstraction overcomes reality and leads to another dimension, the one in which the drama of Mattia Pascal's identity unfolds. It is the theme of the double, as dear to Pirandello as it is to L'Herbier.

The theme of the double or the exchange of identity – also developed by other writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Guy de Maupassant, Jorge Luis Borges – led some critics to question whether, in fact, there were other Mattia Pascals in cinema. In movies like threesome all'italiana (1965), by Franco Indovina, Colonial Hotel (1986), by Cinzia Th. Torrini and, mainly, Professione: reporter (The passenger, 1975), by Michelangelo Antonioni, the Pirandellian theme of the impossible search for another identity is present.5 Among these last cited works, the protagonist of Professione: reporter was considered, by the critic Tullio Kezich, “the most convincing Mattia Pascal on the screen”, although Antonioni, given to the enjoyment of Italian literature, may have been unwittingly inspired by the Pirandellian novel when he wrote the script together with Peter Wollen and Mark Peploe, who signs also the argument.

Alberto Moravia, however, has another vision of the film, because, for him “Pirandello wants to demonstrate, in a sarcastic and paradoxical way, that identity is a mere social fact, that is, we exist while others recognize our existence; meanwhile, Antonioni seems to think exactly the opposite, that is, that we exist, even if it is as a lump of pain, also and above all outside society”. That is why the second suicide, the final one (although entrusted to the hands of others), is, according to the Roman writer, the “only way to free oneself from an identity that is irrevocable existential consciousness”. All of Pirandell's work, however, is not permeated by this clash between seeing oneself live (existential consciousness) and the social mask that every being is obliged to fasten to his or her face, between the person (what each of us is in essence) and the person (representation to society)?

The decision of television reporter David Locke to abandon his own life to assume the identity of another, that of David Robertson, is not immediate, as it may seem at first, but was being elaborated as a result of his dissatisfaction with a “tidy” routine. ” too much: a wife, a house, an adopted son, a successful job, which, despite the novelties it could offer, no longer excites him. Dissatisfaction, which explodes in the desert at the beginning of the film – when Locke seems to resign himself to his fate, shouting into the void: “Okay! I'm not bothered!" –, had already manifested itself in a chat between him and Robertson, recorded “unintentionally” (before, therefore, the diegesis itself), which we heard in two moments of Professione: reporter. Through the conversation, we also see Locke's disbelief in the possibility of change:

1st moment

Locke: Wouldn't it be better to forget old places, forget everything that happened? And just throw it all away?

2st moment

Locke: We translate every experience and situation the same way. We condition ourselves.

Robertson: Do you think we are slaves to habit?

Locke: – Something like that. I mean, try as you might, it's hard to break your habits.

Robertson's death, however, seems to offer the reporter this possibility of change, just as the body found in the waters of the mill had offered Mattia Pascal the chance of the great evasion. It is interesting to note how, in Antonioni's film, although we never see images of water, it is metaphorically represented when David Locke bends over David Robertson's corpse, carefully observing his face.

By the position of the two bodies, we have the clear sensation of a mirroring (David sees himself in David, in a man of the same age, who physically resembles him), as when Narciso recognizes his own face in the reflection of the waters of the creek. It is a ruse, however, as Gérard Genette says: “The place of Being is always the Other Bank, a beyond. Here and now, the liquid mirror only offers those who withdraw into it a fleeting image of a transitory existence”.

Locke, by making Robertson's death his death, renounces his own identity to assume that of another, commits a kind of civil suicide, because he annuls himself to transform his body into the envelope that will have to fulfill the destiny of that other person. In this way, he not only postpones Robertson's “official” death, but also conceals his urge to commit suicide. Assuming someone else's destiny to escape one's own, however, is not so easy, because, except in the initial moments – in which, like Adriano Meis, the new David seems to have taken a momentary vacation –, Locke, on the one hand, has his memory rescued through the various reports he made and with which a friend intends to make a film, on the other, he goes to meet death, a meeting several times postponed, but inevitable, in a parallelism of actions that aims to preserve his identity while he seeks lose her. According to the psychoanalyst Otto Rank: "A person's past is ineluctably stuck in him and becomes his destiny as soon as he tries to get rid of it".

Companion on his journey towards death is the mysterious girl, a kind of Parca, who helps him to follow Robertson's itinerary (that is, to attend the scheduled meetings) until the moment of truth, which, symptomatically, occurs at dusk, in front of a bullring. And death arrives in the very long sequence-shot that practically closes the film.

It, however, had already announced itself at other times, not only through explicit references (Robertson's inert body; the shooting of the African dictator's opponent; the cross at the foot of which a peasant rests, at the entrance to Almeria; the beer poster San Miguel in the back of the bus – São Miguel is the one who catches the souls of purgatory – etc.), as well as through several pans to the right and to the left, which seem to be a rehearsal of the long shot of the passage from life to death.

By not directly portraying Locke's death (we barely hear the gunshot, as if it didn't matter who puts an end to David's existence), Antonioni seems to want to underline the impossibility of understanding others objectively - because, by habit, we always look at them from the outside. same way – if, like Mattia Pascal, we don't adjust our focus. In this sense, the sequence of the interview with the healer is very symptomatic, when he asks the reporter: “Your questions reveal much more about yourself [than] my answers about me”.

As David tells the girl, however, the world that the blind man perceives when he sees again is uglier than the one he idealized when he lived in darkness. In other words, there is no escape and this in the film is highlighted by two closed frames that imprison Locke within the field: the first, when he is dragging Robertson's corpse to his own room, in order to make the exchange; the second, when, in the penultimate white pueblo through which he passes, we see him trapped between the walls of several houses, as if he were at a dead end.

It is in the “impossibility of absolute social evasion”, as Alfredo Bosi states when referring to Pirandello's novel, that David Locke's kinship with Mattia Pascal resides. It is the awareness of this impossibility that leads contemporary man to unfold his personality in the tragic opposition between living (vital spontaneity) and seeing himself live (social demands).6. And society, as we know it, condemns “to death” anyone who deviates from its norms, as the letter of The song of the lladre, in which a young thief, who had taken over the goods of a merchant and swore falsely that he would marry a girl, says goodbye to life in prison where justice has locked him up.7 Only the melody of this traditional Catalan song underlines the last shots of the film, when, once the circle of the extraordinary event has closed – here it is almost obvious to point out the similarity of the Saharan landscape and architecture, where it all began, to those of Spain, where it all ends. –, life resumes its “apparent” normality.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Nelson Pereira dos Santos: a neorealist look? (Edusp)

Originally published under the title “Mattia Pascal: profession reporter”, in Socine de Cinema Studies: year VI (São Paulo: Nojosa Edições, 2005, p. 37-43). This version has been revised and expanded.


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[1] These considerations can lead us to approach The late Mattia Pascal de The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (1880), by Machado de Assis. If, in the Brazilian novel, man is fated to live, in the Italian novel, he is condemned to see himself live. And, to escape the social prison, one has to be dead and the other “out of life”.

[2] The 1930s realization also had an Italian version. At that time, it was common for a film to be shot in two or three languages, aiming at the international market. Directed by Corrado D'Errico, The late Mattia Pascal featured the same crew and three actors from the French-language production: Pierre Blanchar (voiced by Augusto Marcacci), in the role of the protagonist, Isa Miranda, as his beloved, and Enrico Glori, who, under Chenal's direction, was a mere supporting character (a hairdresser), while, with D'Errico, he was a secondary character (Count Papiano).

[3] Perhaps it is a mere coincidence, but, in a humorous chronicle published by the daily Rio de Janeiro Tomorrow, on April 12, 1944, under the title “Uns glasses”, Cecília Meireles also praises her defective eyesight, which allows her to take a different look at reality: “Those who didn't know it yet, will now knowing […] that I am a woman with crooked eyes. Very crooked. […] The consequences are very advantageous for humanity. For, thanks to the squinting of my eyes, all the places in the world seemed to me beautiful and comfortable enough; the painting exhibitions, delightful; and the creatures, generally speaking, endearing. […] From then on, I constantly suffer long and mild crises of optimism, seeing the seas without ever seeing the shipwrecked; the eyes without ever penetrating the intentions; shop windows without ever noticing the prices. But, as often happens, many people regretfully lamented that great calamity that heaven had caused to fall on my innocence: being born with eyes different from others. […]”. From the oculists' conjurations “there always resulted a pair of glasses, with which I would distract myself for a few moments, seeing things as normal people want them to be seen. (Which didn't enchant me at all.) Thus, after finding myself with many freckles, many beard growths, many gray hairs, many poorly painted pictures, many tables covered in dust, it would happen to me, thanks to the squinting of my eyes, to put my foot on top of the lens, and crack! – the pseudo-truthful world whose integrity so defended by those with a normal view was over again. […]”

[4] Initially surrealist, he founded the Thêatre Alfred Jarry with Antonin Artaud. His most famous play, Victor ou les enfants au pouvoir (Vítor, or the children in power, 1928) was staged in Brazil by Eros Martim in 1963 and, with great success, in 1975, under the direction of Celso Nunes.

[5] To these films traditionally singled out by Italian critics, we could add two Brazilian productions from 1952: Simon the one-eyed, by Alberto Cavalcanti – in this case, however, the dialogue with the Pirandellian work already begins in the collection of chronicles Memoirs of Simon, the one-eyed (novel of an unfaithful husband), which Galeão Coutinho wrote in the 1930s and probably published in a book in 1937, on which the Brazilian director is inspired –, and All blue, by Moacyr Fenelon, in which a composer, misunderstood by his wife, has a long dream in which reality appears completely modified and he has a relationship with an ideal woman.

[6] The drama between being and seeming, central to Pirandello's work, characterizes many of his plays, with which the author tries to shake the public, questioning social rules, revealing their narrowness. This is very clear in interpersonal relationships, when betrayal comes into play, as in The doctor's dovere (The doctor's duty, 1911, taken from the homonymous novel, formerly entitled The hook, 1902), in which the wife refuses to abandon her adulterous husband, going over her own pride, maternal advice and what dictated common sense. Themes and feelings that, in Brazilian popular music, were well summarized in increase (1970), by Jayme Florence and Augusto Mesquita, in which the protagonist accepts back the loved one who abandoned him/her, despite the contempt of his/her social surroundings. In Maysa's poignant interpretation (recorded on the album I walk alone in a crowd of loves, 1970), the repetition of the first verse at the end of the song – “I know you will say” – further underscores society's siege on individual lives.

[7] The song is on Joan Manuel Serrat's album, traditional songs (1967)


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