Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini
These sense of who Pasolini was is far more complicated when his filmography is build up. The Marxist who yet has a considerable chunk of his filmography based on mythological and literary historical pieces. The politics can still be seen in the Trilogy of Life (1971-74), Oedipus Rex (1967), and what was left of the uncompleted adaptation of Orestes, but the willingness, even in a social realistic form, to depict the fantastical, is eye opening when all that one knows of him is a Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), or The Gospel of St. Matthew (1964). The words of a centaur to a grown up Jason, who is seen raising the Greek mythological individual up from infancy, include that reality is fantastical, and that the fantastical is reality. The abstract supernatural tone of Teorema (1968), the absurdity of The Hawks and Sparrows (1966) and such films leads to an immense centre of dreamlike material which the politically minded director managed to sew to the bare reality to stress his point. The reality is depicted through them - the failed yet beautiful faces and bodies, the elaborate yet handmade and theatrical costumes, and real locations substituting fantasy ones. Even the most fantastical moments in his films - the bronze man in Arabian Nights (1974), the centaur here with his fake horse legs etc. - are depicted as obviously practical effects, theatre tricks, but given a reality for them. You can still see the fantasy, the myth, but its appropriated for a clear meaning of his own.
Appropriating the play by Euripides, the film after the prolong follows the titular protagonist, played by opera singer Maria Callas, a sorceress in her land who sacrifices her position to go with Jason, played by Olympic triple jumper Giuseppe Gentile, and his Argonauts, on the search for her land's golden fleece which she steals for him. The next and final half depicts the years later when, married, Jason betrays her by planning to marry the daughter of a king he was originally opposing, leading to tragedy and revenge. Medea is the old world, Jason the new world, Medea losing her abilities in a spiritual crisis for her betrayal. The film succeeds in that it is just a step ahead of fully being understood, scenes playing out that seemingly have no connection to what has transpired, leading to the uncanny. There is an abstract tone to the film in its pure fantasy, an ancient world interpreted in a theatrical way. Yet it is realistically made. Locations in Turkey and Syria make up the world shown amongst others, buildings carved from the sand as empires. Wooden masks, capes, gowns, metal chain jewellery, a coarse aesthetic beauty to the content. Pasolini went further and handpicked a score based on various types of traditional music. African. Music I recognise, in the squealing high horns, of Tibetian Buddhist monks or the same instrumentation and chanting. Even what I felt, how my ears interpreted them, as a East Asian string instrument with matching vocals nearly synched onto post synched actors. The world shown is of no clear time, timeless, a mass of cultures made into a cohesive world in terms of look and presentation. A sacrifice shown where a virile young man's blood and organs are painted onto a harvest to grow, a key and memorable sequence, using real natives of the local environment shot in as extras, feels as if one is in the same place as the characters. Pasolini made a fake world into a reality in how it is shown, connectable to even if also completely alien in culture.
Maria Callas, close to middle aged grace, commands the screen even if the film is viewed without her original voice in Italian dubbing. While never singing once, it's clear the prescience required for opera is shown in the performance. As well as sympathy for the old world, the apparently barbaric one, the director also created a feminist film, the plight of Medea that she is seen as a barbarian to her husband Jason even after rearing children from him. Killing her own brother early on, she is still sympathetic, the role of mythology to step back and see the complexities of gods and mortals, their worst and best sides, as well as the relation to normality to the fantastical. Pasolini doesn't over explain what is going on, confusing at first but ultimately more rewarding because the images and few words said speak much more than exposition. This shows the lack of boundary between the mythological and the contemporary which rears itself in existence in films like Teorema, the atheist still able to evoke more powerfully the unknown to rational human logic then a Christian or spiritual filmmaker. This paradox is at its most distinct that it was Pasolini, not a Christian like Mel Gibson, who made the greater portrait of Jesus Christ in The Gospel According To St. Matthew, not just for his down-to-earth, rational portrait of the Son of God but also the mystery he still leaves in. Had his take on Orestes been made, remaining in the filmed draft Notes Towards an African Orestes (1970), then he would, in filming the Greek play in current day Africa, have melded two sides, his real environments and the old world he felt nostalgia for, that were far closer bed fellows than presumed..
The film is subtle, yet is full of pronounced, powerful moments. The sight of the two sides of the centaur, how they represent the mind of Jason to express and evoke, the old world and the old world desecrated represented by both sides. The potential flash forward in the future of the princess being struck down by accident, or purpose, by the curse of Medea, panic felt when scenes and dialogue almost repeat again suggesting it will actually happen in narrative time. The eloquence of the dialogue even in subtitles, how every character is not just an archetype, but gives a depth. How sumptuous the film is. Colourful but earthly, the blazing sun enough to symbolise the old God of the Sun reappearing to Medea to regain her power, one of the many subtle editing or short composition practices Pasolini used. It's surprising as well how gory and considerably nasty the film is too, the effective of severed prosthetic limbs not overbearing, not over elaborate, making an effect but linking the ancient plays and myth to today's horror films in comparison, how the physical, exaggerated violence is as much representative of the emotions behind them as they are probably more accurate to what happened in real history. Pasolini was able to evoke these tales, beautifully in films like Arabian Nights, without losing sight of a clear interpretation of his own thoughts, usually condemnation of modern life. Even as he rejected his own work, and made Salo in rampant disgust of the world he lived in, he still made the horror of that film with the same theatrics seen here or in a Oedipal Rex. Medea itself ends with this despair. We sympathise with the titular character in her abandonment. She takes a violent extreme, but in context of mythology, and the potential feminist reading, her despair is rational, despite its brutality. She shouts down Jason that nothing is possible anymore, the last line. 'Fin' is shown then, the film ends. Stark, cuts to the point. The old world dies screaming under her own terms. Pertinent now as it was in the Sixties when the film was first show. Usually the past is misappropriated, distorted or manipulated, so to encounter it in its true form is potent, shocking for the modern eye and liberating, which Pasolini was able to translate to the modern day.
Abstract Scale (High/Medium/Low/None) - Low
Pasolini managed to make a clear, unique style of his own that shifts closely to a series of images that connect and have effect rather than a clear cut narrative. A film like Porcile (1969) or Teorema is this taken to its furthest, but Medea still has the same energy. That Pasolini deliberately used a highly well known opera singer, a celebrity, and an Olympic champion as his main protagonists here adds a specific detail unique to this film. Like Terence Stamp in Teorema, deliberate in using actors as well as non-actors, the director is able to take a recognisable face and give it new meaning in context of his work. This as much applies for the adaptations of the ancient and classical literary sources and the materials he uses too, creating new and alien contexts for recognisable material. Using other nations' environment and other cultures' music and making them gel perfectly with others. The clear moral battle for Pasolini, the existential fight, between the modernity he hated and the past he desired, is littered and shown through all his work I've seen, and in deciding to depict this through the mixing of the recognisable, the universal, with the abstract creates a peculiar but effective mix. Certainly enough for the scale.
It's amazing that a director I first approached as a mere intellectual art director has a significant chunk of his filmography devoted to films like Medea or the Trilogy of Life. Myths, fantasies, the erotic, comedic, even films that are legitimately great entertainment. Even his most abstract films has bursts of humour. Even Salo has a sick sense of one despite the abomination and shit eating. The films, alongside gems like Porcile, have been a revelation, more so when the same attitude and presentation is given to the depiction of the modern day as the ancient worlds. His works are an open dialogue to his issues with the present and the past, depicting the unreal faithfully and adding oddness to its nature alongside his own pertinent political ideas, startling as a result. On first glance Medea might be seen as a lesser work, but then one compares it to other films based on Greek myths and would see how significantly superior it is to most films.