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Italy, 1961

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Production: Cine de Duca-Arco Film; 35mm; running time: 120 minutes. Released 1961. Filmed 1960–61 in the slums of Rome.

Producer: Alfredo Bini; screenplay: Pier Paolo Pasolini with dialogue collaboration by Sergio Citti, from the novel Una vita violenta by Pasolini; photography: Tonino Delli Colli; editor: Nino Baragli; sound: Luigi Puri and Manlio Magara; art director: Flavio Mogherini; music director: Carlo Rustichelli; assistant directors: Bernardo Bertolucci and Leopoldo Savona.

Cast: Franco Citti (Accatone/Vittorio); Franca Pasut (Stella); Silvana Corsini (Maddalena); Paola Guidi (Ascenza); Adriana Asti (Amore); Renato Capogna (Renato); Mario Cipriani (Balilla); Roberto Scaringella (Cartagine); Piero Morgia (Pio); Umberto Bevilacqua (The Neapolitan); Elsa Morante (Prisoner); Adele Cambria (Nannina); Polidor (Beechino); Danilo Alleva (Iaio); Luciano Conti (Il Moicano); Luciano Gonino (Piede d'Oro); Gabriele Baldini (Intellectual); Adrianno Mazelli and Mario Castiglione (Amore's clients); Dino Frondi and Tommaso Nuevo (Cartagine's friends); Romolo Orazi (Accattone's father-in-law); Silvio Citti (Sabino); Adriana Moneta (Margheritona).



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* * *

Himself an alien in Rome, isolated by his regional Friulian upbringing, his homosexuality, and his poverty, the young Pier Paolo Pasolini had felt an instant affinity with the young street kids of the crowded, war-ruined city when he arrived there in the winter of 1949. He quickly developed his taste for sexual rough trade among the ragazzi of the city, the sarcastic kids dispossessed and wised-up by post-war greed and the opportunism encouraged by the Marshall Plan. In 1955 Pasolini published his first novel, Ragazzi di vita, a picture of life in the shantytowns and among the pimping, petty-thieving boys he now knew well. Una vita violenta, four years later, explored the same ground through the brief, violent life of Tommaso, smart enough to sense fitfully the ruin of his future. Una vita violenta became the basis of Pasolini's first film, and Tommaso the model for Vittorio, the delinquent his pals call Accattone.

Fellini was to have backed the film but pulled out after Pasolini submitted some test footage in which he had overreached himself in trying to shoot in the style of Dreyer's Trial of Joan of Arc. With Italian film heading away from neorealism towards a high style and elaborate production values mirroring the new wealth of the cities, Fellini was also dubious about Pasolini's chosen location, a run-down street in the heart of the Roman slums. Nor had he any reason to believe that Franco Citti could carry the leading role; inexperienced, uncommunicative, Citti was the younger brother of the man who had been Pasolini's adviser on Roman dialect for the script editing work he did on films by Fellini and Mauro Bolognini.

It was Bolognini who, seeing stills from the test footage on Pasolini's desk, understood what he was trying to do and interested producer Alfredo Bini in the project. The result was a film more characteristic of Pasolini's temperament than of Italian cinema. To the music of Bach's St. Matthew Passion, Citti moves around a Rome of decadent religious imagery, crumbling buildings, a city pervaded by a sun-dazed, numbed sense of mortality. Dreams show the ragazzi buried half-naked in rubble, an evocative image of the ruin Pasolini saw reflected in both the morality and the architecture of his adopted city. Aiming for "an absolute simplicity of expression," Pasolini in fact achieved a studied stylization that was to become typical of his films. Citti became a star, and Accattone established Pasolini as a star himself in yet another field, matching his eminence in poetry, fiction, and criticism. Today, with Pasolini dead at the hands of just such a boy as Vittorio, it is difficult to see the film as anything but an ironic signpost to the fate of this mercurial polymath.

—John Baxter