wed 15/07/2020

Theorem | reviews, news & interviews

Theorem

Theorem

Pasolini's political allegory, involving a sexually accommodating Terence Stamp, has lost none of its wit or resonance

Taking a break: Terence Stamp's life-changing guest in Theorem

Terence Stamp has drolly recalled being over the moon when the Catholic church attacked Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema, in which he starred, on its release in 1968. “It was a very obscure movie – it was going to be seen by four drag queens and Einstein. And when the Pope came out against it, everybody wanted to see it.”

Theorem, as it’s known in English, was indeed hugely successful. And it has since become one of the Italian’s best-known, most assiduously analysed and arguably most influential films. One can feel its shadow over so many films featuring families driven to distraction by a seductive stranger; but in the Sixties, in the hands of a gay Marxist poet, this scenario received the definitive treatment.

Stamp plays the unnamed, unexplained, and rather angelic visitor to a middle-class Milanese family who beds, in short order, the maid, the son, the mother, father and finally the daughter. It is usually asserted that this young man seduces the family, yet the verb is too active; in fact, each one of the five seeks him out, and the guest – like all good guests, one might say – merely accepts everything that he’s offered.

This acceptance comes with an empathetic understanding of what it is each of these individuals wants, boy or girl, man or woman, sexually and emotionally. He touches them. Yet rather than liberating these people, the experience has a negative consequence; when the guest leaves, as abruptly as he had arrived, the family falls apart – in a variety of ways, surprising and spectacular.

The exception is the maid whose fate, while one wouldn’t wish to share it, is arguably a positive one; Pasolini’s point being that it is specifically the bourgeoisie who can’t accept the divine, even when it gets into bed with them.

A political allegory with spiritual knobs on, it is hilarious, confrontational and as resonant as ever today, as our own middle class dominates the social spectrum, consumerism their credo. Pasolini today would have a ball.

It is specifically the bourgeoisie who can’t accept the divine, even when it gets into bed with them

This was Stamp at his most beautiful, in the period of his dashing Sergeant Troy in Far From the Madding Crowd, Monica Vitti’s sidekick Willie Garvin in Modesty Blaise and Fellini’s Toby Dammit. He’s perfectly cast – a sex god with a benign smile, displaying an instinctive, unfussy understanding of what his director wants of him; though not providing the erection the director reportedly requested, he presumably wasn’t phased by the number of shots of his crotch.

In fact all of the cast are spot on, though I particularly relish Silvana Mangano’s almost transvestite-looking mother, who wears full make-up in bed, and Laura Betti's maid, whose enraptured face brings to mind some of the close-ups of The Gospel According to St Matthew, and whose moment of levitation is sublime. While there's little dialogue, a quirky, horn-led score from Ennio Morricone evokes both the period and the story’s strangeness.

The current release coincides with a Pasolini retrospective at the BFI Southbank. In May the institute features a season celebrating the career of Terence Stamp.

Watch the trailer for Theorem


One can feel its shadow over so many films featuring families driven to distraction by a seductive stranger

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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