Teorema (Theorem)

Movie Information

In Brief: While this surreal — and sexually charged — drama is certainly nowhere near the most unsettling thing Pier Paolo Pasolini ever made (that would be 1975's Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom), Teorema is high on the Not for Everyone list. It's less that the film is upsetting (though some will find it so) than that this story of a mysterious stranger (Terence Stamp) who arrives out of nowhere to seduce — both figuratively and literally — an entire family is told in a ... well, unorthodox manner. It's certainly thought-provoking in terms of content and form, but it should not be undertaken lightly.  Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Teorema (Theorem) Friday, May 15, 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
Genre: Surreal Allegorical Drama
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Starring: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp, Massimo Girotti, Anne Wiazemsky, Andrés José Cruz Soublette
Rated: NR



From my 2007 review: I have an ongoing argument with one of my oldest friends that centers around his ability to grant literature, poetry, painting and just about any other art form the complete freedom to be experimental, but not film. Show him a movie that doesn’t stick to a very obvious and traditional narrative structure, that doesn’t conform to the dictates of a “well-made” film, and he becomes downright belligerent — even while he’ll wax ecstatic over, say, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. I think this stems from his notion that movies are a lesser art form and should be for amusement only — not a concept that everyone subscribes to, thankfully. I bring this up because Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) is a film that tests any and all such notions of what a movie should or shouldn’t be. While the film does have a narrative, it’s hardly straightforward.




I suppose the film could be looked at as a kind of mystical, homoerotic variation on Jean Renoir’s Boudo Saved From Drowning (1932) — or perhaps the Americanized remake of Renoir’s film, Paul Mazursky’s Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), would be nearer the mark. It’s an approach that might be helpful in getting some kind of handle on Pasolini’s odd tale of a mysterious stranger (Terence Stamp) who invades the upper-class world of a rich family and proceeds — quite literally — to seduce the mother (Silvana Mangano), the son (Andrés José Cruz Soublette), the daughter (Anne Wiazemsky), the father (Massimo Girotti) and even the maid (Laura Betti). But such an approach will only take you so far, because Pasolini’s film goes much further in its examination of the fates of those touched by Stamp’s “Visitor” character, who disappears from the movie at the halfway mark.




Don’t expect easy answers. Don’t expect answers at all, merely suggestions. Who is the Visitor? Is he a Christ figure? Pasolini says that he’s a more generic god, but is he even that? In Pasolini’s Marxist, irreligious and decidedly gay worldview (his own fascination with Stamp’s beauty is obvious), the Visitor might as easily just be a glorified street boy, whose intrusion into this world merely awakens the bourgeois family to the emptiness of their lives. But how then to explain the maid’s religious epiphany—to the degree that she levitates? Put simply, you can’t, and that’s perhaps the point: that the film’s mysteries are as impenetrable as those of the enigmatic Visitor. You’ll either find it brilliant or maddening. And neither response would be wrong.

 Classic World Cinema by Courtyard Gallery will present Teorema (Theorem) Friday, May 15, 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

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “Teorema (Theorem)

  1. Me

    It’s been awhile since I’ve seen this one, but the more I think about it, this would pair nicely with Borgman from last year.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.