Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote Mamma Roma (1962) specifically for his star, Anna Magnani. And as long as she’s onscreen, the film is as fascinating as that star — a woman who seems as much a force of nature as an actress. The idea of presenting her as an aging prostitute trying to put her past (and occasional present) behind her — as she attempts to make a new, respectable life for her son (Ettore Garofolo) — is an appealing one. Throwing in a little borderline incest isn’t bad either. For that matter, the use of all this as Marxist social commentary (hey, it’s Pasolini) — that the capitalist society of exploiting workers is at the heart of Mamma Roma’s situation — is sound enough. As filmmaking, the film is often breathtaking — two very long tracking shots of Mamma Rosa walking down the street she works are amazing to behold. But then there’s another side to the film — the sections dealing with Ettore — and it’s considerably less impressive. I’m sure that Pasolini enjoyed filling the set with throngs of street boys (hey, it’s Pasolini), but the drama it generates seems pretty weak when set alongside Magnani’s larger-than-life presence. Not one of Pasolini’s best films, but worthwhile all the same.
Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Mamma Roma Friday, July 19, at 8 p.m. at Phil Mechanic Studios, 109 Roberts St., River Arts District (upstairs in the Railroad Library). Info: 273-3332, www.ashevillecourtyard.com