These two films aren't Pasolini's first attempts at parables. HAWKS AND SPARROWS (1965-'66; September 20 at 7 pm), his most lighthearted picture, features a father-and-son team (Toto and Ninetto Davelli) of Beckett-like tramps joined by a left-leaning talking raven. It's a slapstick allegory of Italian Marxism, and as such its pleasures are a bit specialized.
TEOREMA (1968; September 3 + 12 at 7 pm), on the other hand, is more universal but seems contrived today. Terence Stamp plays a Christ-like stranger who makes love with each member of a bourgeois family, driving them to madness or destruction when they glimpse a world beyond their ken. It's like a '60s rendition of Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning skewed by Pasolini's sensibility.
More disturbing than either of those is PIGSTY (1968-'69; September 10 at 9:15 pm). This one weaves two tales together, or perhaps tells the same story, separated by four centuries of psychological disorders. In the first tale, a 15th-century scavenger dwelling on Mount Etna forms a tribe of cannibal bandits. The brilliantly lit cinder hills and valleys of the volcano provide a dream landscape in which the band kill passers-by, eat them, and throw their heads into the crater.
Meanwhile, back in the 20th century, the son of a German industrialist lapses into a coma brought on by his indecision over whether to embrace the leftist politics of his girlfriend or accept the fascism of his father. But all he really wants to do is screw around with the swine in the nearby pigsty, a scandal that his father's war-criminal rival uses to further his own aims.
In both stories, the deviant is made into a scapegoat. Dogs devour the cannibal and his followers; pigs feast on the prodigal son. In each case, the evil vested powers are preserved by the sacrifice: the industrialist and his rival merge to form an omnipotent corporation; the Church is vindicated by the cannibals' auto da fé
Yet the sacrifices aren't a total waste. With his death, the industrialist's son unites the peasants on his father's land. And at the moment of his capture, the cannibal tears off his clothes, and his body shines like a flame, humbling his oppressors. At his trial, he echoes Christ by uttering three times: "I killed my father. I ate human flesh. I trembled with joy." The sparagmos of both, so Pasolini seems to argue, is a consummation devoutly to be wished; it transforms their lives into works of art.
But not accessible art. Pasolini made films about incest, murder, bestiality, cannibalism, human sacrifice — in short, what audiences want to watch. But his style and complexity seemed beyond the taste of the average viewer, so in his treatment of THE DECAMERON (1971; September 11 at 9 pm), THE CANTERBURY TALES (1972; September 24 at 9 pm), and ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974; September 19 at 7 pm), he decided to lighten up. In these celebrations of storytelling, magic, and the appetites, he played up the humor and the sex. These films offer striking images and narrative ingenuity — especially Arabian Nights. But at bottom they were trash. No surprise that they became Pasolini's biggest box-office hits.