(Pigsty, or Pigpen)
September 5, 1968 (Venice Film Festival) — 98 minutes, color, 35mm, aspect ratio 1.85:1 — Fantasy / Drama
Pasolini’s 7th feature, alternately haunting and satirical, this tale of sacrifice in two radically different worlds is one of Pasolini’s most original, and deeply strange, films.
FILMS: Shorts and Documentaries | 1. Accattone | 2. Mamma Roma | 3. Gospel According to Saint Matthew | 4. Hawks and Sparrows | 5. Oedipus Rex | 6. Teorema | 7. Porcile | 8. Medea | 9. Decameron | 10. Canterbury Tales | 11. Arabian Nights | 12. Salo.
“I killed my father. I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy.”
With a tagline like that, don’t expect the Disney musical version any time soon.
Porcile (Pigsty) is one of Pasolini’s most hauntingly original works. It interweaves two seemingly disparate tales, that of a young man forced into a life of cannibalism in a dreamlike medieval Wasteland, and that of the enigmatic son of an ex-Nazi industrialist in modern Germany. You can see the stark differences between these two different worlds by comparing frame 1 above and frame 2 below. The young German, more attracted to pigs than to his beautiful fiancée, and the cannibal each become sacrificial victims of their different societies. This strange, grotesque and provocative parable, filmed with serene beauty and underlying horror, resonates on many different levels.
Although Porcile has the reputation of being a difficult film, from another point of view – when seen as a dream/nightmare vision – it can actually be experienced as one of his most accessible. Just let its extraordinary images wash over you, then think about about what it means to you at your leisure.
Also this is not an abstract film. Each section has a definite – and sometimes suspenseful – story to tell, and the only narrative anomaly (aside from the overall structural bifurcation) is a brief flash-forward near the end of the Wasteland tale. Even that is clarified fairly quickly. Yet another layer of ambiguity, which perhaps stretches from the thematic to the autobiogrpahical, is that only the peripheral character named Maracchione appears in both sections. Maracchione was played by Ninetto Davoli, the great love of Pasolini’s life, who appeared in most of his films.
It is a film which works because of the enormous contrasts – the tensions – around which it is built. In terms of history, we have the contrast between an overtly barbaric past, with cannibalism and Christian priests who ritually sacrifice young men and women, and a covertly barbaric present, with neo-Nazis running Big Business. Visually, we have the vast, deep spaces of the medieval Wasteland contrasting with the flat opulence of the Klotz Villa, where Pasolini uses lateral or head-on angles almost exclusively. There is a particularly intriguing moment – as seen in the shot of the Villa above – when Pasolini connects the deep space of the Wasteland with the flat, lateral angling of his subjects (Julian and Ida walking towards each other in profile: You almost expect to hear them reminisce about Last Year at Marienbad).
Of course, the contrast exists on even more levels than the temporl and visual. In terms of sound, it is striking that there are only about a dozen words of dialogue in the entire Wasteland section, and those are spoken by its handsomely broody protagonist at the end: “I killed my father. I ate human flesh and I quiver with joy.” Pasolini offers us yet another enigma inside this most enigmatic of films. We never see, or even hear, any reference to this self-confessed parricide. Of course, Pasolini may well be drawing a connection between this film and his recent adaptation of Oedipus Rex, the most famous tale of a man murdering his father (not to mention marrying his mother). Also, its wasteland imagery looks back to the desert scenes of that earlier film, while its savage satire of the capitalist elite looks ahead to the mordant horrors of Salò.
The anti-bourgeois satire of Porcile comes across in the flat chatter of the modern day section. The series of monotonous conversations about the ‘good old days’ of Nazi Germany, often led by Mr. Klotz (played by Ugo Tognazzi, best known for his starring role in the three La Cage Aux Folles movies), quickly degenerates into little more than noise, since its ideology is so stultifyingly monolithic. (Considering that its subject is the Holocaust, some viewers understandably might be offended – which is always fine with that arch provocateur Pasolini, who knows that his anti-fascist credentials are in good order.)
The modern scenes’ knee-jerk Marxism, parodying the decadent bourgeoisie as swine in countless ways, is so over-the-top silly that it soon begins to feel like a satire of satire, or more specifically, a satire of cheap satire, of lazy political “thinking.” There is even a scene, with Mr. and Mrs. Klotz in bed, in which he invokes (for the first of several times) the great Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht and the artist George Grosz, well-known for porcine satires of the bourgeoisie [see example to the left]. The satire, and ideology, is so bald that I think Pasolini – who is a master of satire both subtle (The Decameron) and profound (Salò) – makes us take a step back and, perhaps, contemplate what sort of reality must underlie the real-world equivalents of these paper-thin piglike people.
This “post-Brechtian” strain may also explain why we see, and presumably why Pasolini included (since the DVD is authorized by the Pasolini Foundation), every millimeter of footage, including the never-seen bits of code numbers and filler images at the end of each reel. Every ten minutes, when a reel ends, we are bombarded with several seconds of “noise,” in a no-cost cinematic equivalent of Brecht’s “alienation effect.” As you may recall, that technique was supposed to distance the audience from the story so that we would be better able to contemplate the political ideas behind it. (Pasolini’s friend Godard – in the 1962 anthology film RoGoPaG the titular “Go…” is Godard and the “Pa…” Pasolini – found creative ways to incorporate Brecht’s theory into their films; Pasolini also cast the role of Ida with Anne Wiazemsky who had recently appeared in Godard’s La Chinoise and Week End.) Again, Pasolini’s in-your-face use of “filler footage” may be another satirical slap at orthodox Marxist aesthetics. (Pasolini was a Marxist, but with many reservations, and he never stopped questioning its basic tenets.)
Of course, Porcile is infamous for its portrayal of cannibalism. But even there, it is shocking in its discretion and (forgive the pun) good taste. There are a legion of films with more shocks and thrills around this taboo than Porcile, from Herschell Gordon Lewis’s aptly-entitled Blood Feast (1963) to Antonia Bird’s Ravenous (1999). Pasolini goes to lengths to show us that the cannibalism is a matter of sheer survival, as he downplays the melodrama and titillation.
Yet Porcile is a film of genine power, not to mention deep strangeness. It draws its power from the interplay of the visceral and the cerebral, and from its suggestive openness. As Pasolini says, in the half hour documentary included on the DVD, “I’ve never wanted to make a conclusive statement. I’ve always posed various problems and left them open to consideration.”
There is an interesting suggestion, at the film’s midpoint, that Julian, still in a coma, is dreaming the entire Wasteland section. In other words, the entire picture – including perhaps the bizarre, dialogue-heavy final scene – may be from Julian’s point of view. Pasolini leaves this possibility ambiguous but tantalizing, as he opens up yet another layer in this Chinese puzzle box. Leaving that ambiguity aside, Porcile’s Wasteland sequences, with their lack of speech and endless barren vistas and fluid camera work, rank among most intriguing depictions of a dream state I have seen. Although on the surface they could not be more dissimilar, yet they reminded me of perhaps the first masterpiece of cinematic nightmare, Robert Wiene’s expressionistic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919).
Jean-Pierre Léaud (famous as Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in The 400 Blows and its four sequels) bears a distinct resemblance to Pierre Clémenti (Belle de Jour, The Conformist), who plays the young man in the Wasteland. Both are strikingly handsome and deeply pensive, with eyes that suggest untold depths. (Pasolini was often a genius at casting his films.)
One of the scenes which I cannot get out of my head (this would make Pasolini very happy, of course) is Clémenti’s duel with a straggling (or is it deserting?) soldier. After scrambling over the desolate hills, they lock swords and fight. But not to the death. When the soldier realizes that he has lost, he bows down, accepting his fate like the prey awaiting the coup de grace of the predator in, say, Never Cry Wolf. But the openly gay filmmaker also infuses the scene, between these two attractive men, with a sort of tender homoerotic passion. Which is cut short when Clémenti whacks off the other man’s head and then, well, you already know that this is a film about cannibalism. (There is a moment of comparable emotional complexity in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, when the Jewish-American soldier finally realzies that the Nazi he is fighting will win, and resigns himself to letting the German slowly – perhaps even sexually – drive in the dagger which kills him.)
There is another, admittedly rarefied, element to the film which I, as an erstwhile English major, found fascinating: metaphor. The two halves of the film, which we have to bring together in our personal interpretation (whether we do this consciously or instinctively), are the two elements of a metaphor, which forces us to look for the similarities between two (seemingly) unlike entities. I’m not suggesting that Pasolini’s film is merely a cinematic equivalent of a literary “puzzle,” but most viewers would admit that Porcile does some very interesting things to your head.
Also, I do not want to make Pasolini seem like an overly cerebral filmmaker. Yes, he was a brilliant theoretician, but he was also a vivid – and entertaining – storyteller, not to mention a master at creating hauntingly memorable images. Perhaps only that other great poet (playwright, novelist, and artist) turned filmmaker, Jean Cocteau (Blood of a Poet, Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus), has equalled Pasolini’s achievements across so many media.
What I particularly like about Porcile is how it made me challenge, in original and provocative ways, so many of my assumptions. Both obvious ones, about class and society, and more subtle ones about the nature of film, art, and history. It may not be the easiest film to sit through – unless you just sit back and let it flow over you – but once it’s over don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking and talking about it, even dreaming about it, for a long time to come.
Outline of the Film
Since the 2003 DVD does not contain any chapter stops (discussed below under Original Video Release), here is my own synopsis. Hope this helps you locate scenes and sequences of particular interest.
- 0:00:00 – Prologue: Engraved stone tablets lie on soil which resembles that of the wasteland. A narrator reads the inscriptions, about Nazi Germany.
- 0:03:27 – Wasteland: A ragged young man searches desperately for food on a vast barren plain. He avoids a legion of soldiers, wearing Spanish armor and carrying swords and rifles (from a period of several centuries ago). Intercut are brief shots of a magnificent modern day villa. The young man finds some scattered helmets and weapons.
- 0:08:28 – Klotz Villa: In the present day, Julian, a troubled young man of the upper classes (with a penchant for doing pig imitations), talks with his liberal young fiancee Ida. At one point she says, “We’re here to analyze ourselves. It’s our privilege.”
- 0:10:56 – Wasteland: The young man, wearing one of the horned helmets and carrying a rifle and swords, runs across the desolate landscape.
- 0:11:46 – Klotz Villa: Julian and Ida are with Mr. and Mrs. Klotz (both parents delighted about the impending merger, er, marriage). Cut to dialogue scenes between Julian and Ida; then Mr. and Mrs. Klotz in bed; then Julian and Ida in front of the villa (Julian does a great many pig impressions).
- 0:20:51 – Wasteland: Young man hides from a procession of soldiers; he finds a lone soldier whom he fights, defeats, decapitates (he tosses the head into a smoking sulphur pit), and then begins to eat
- 0:32:43 – Klotz Villa: Ida and Mrs. Klotz sit in front of the comatose Julian, whom they discuss. Next, we intercut between more of the stone tablets and Mr. Klotz playing the harp.
- 0:37:53 – Wasteland: Young man meets another man (actor Franco Citti) and shares his “food.” Together they find a wagon, kill the soldiers and free the young women held prisoner.
- 0:41:47 – Klotz Villa: Mr. Klotz plays the harp until Mr. Guenther arrives. They talk about their friend from Nazi days, Mr. Hirt (now Herdhitze).
- 0:46:06 – Wasteland: A man and a woman on a donkey ride across the land. They find the camp of the young man and his small band.
- 0:48:35 – Klotz Villa: Klotz and Guenther reminisce about the Nazi death camps, and their friend Mr. Ding who has now become Mr. Clauberg.
- 0:52:36 – Wasteland: At a medieval church, a boy plays a flute while a young man (actor Ninetto Davoli, who later appears in the modern day section as “Maracchione”) dances. Something exciting is about to happen. Cut to the barren plains where many soldiers lie in wait. Quick cut to Julian in his coma. Then back to the wasteland, where we see a naked young man and woman lying on the ground. The young man sees the naked couple far below.
- 0:57:38 – Klotz Villa: Herdhitze arrives, and talks with Mr. Klotz whose wheelchair is pushed by Guenther. Herdhitze is complimented on his “Italian plastic surgery,” which has completely changed his appearance. They all remember the happy times during the Nazi regime.
- 1:00:24 – Wasteland: Young man and his band on the hilltop.
- 1:02:31 – Klotz Villa: Herdhitze, Klotz, and Guenther continue talking. Then we see Julian and Ida, who are separating.
- 1:08:27 – Wasteland: Procession arrives at the church with the now-naked young man and his companions in chains. We then go into a flashback to the recent time before they were captured.
- 1:10:26 – Klotz Villa: Klotz and Herdhitze discuss the state of the Germany economy. Herdhitze tells Klotz about the activities of his son Julian in 1959.
- 1:17:26 – Wasteland: The flashback continues as the young man and his band on a hilltop descend towards the naked young couple. But it is a trap, and the soldiers lying in wait descend and capture them. We then go back into this sequence’s “present time” as we see the captured young man and his companions in the church. The Franco Citti characters kisses the crucifix proferred by a monk and falls to his knees. The young man refuses.
- 1:23:31 – Klotz Villa:A string quartet plays at an elegant dinner party. Klotz and Herdhitze, on their own, drink beer, as they celebrate the merger of their two enormous corporations. Cut to the villa grounds, where Julian returns the greeting of Maracchione, before heading down a wooded path.
- 1:26:03 – Wasteland: Procession with the monks and soldiers leading the young man and other captives.
- 1:26:20 – Klotz Villa: Pigs, wallowing in filth. Cut to Julian entering the pigsty.
- 1:27:16 – Wasteland: Monks pound stakes into the ground as the prisoners watch in horror. The monks force the captives to the ground, tying them to the stakes. Defiantly, the young man – four times – says, “I killed my father. I ate human flesh. I quiver with joy.” He is the last. Cut to Maracchione on a hilltop watching the sacrifices. He sees wild dogs beginning to devour the victims.
- 1:32:51 – Klotz Villa: Guenther introduces Clauberg to Klotz and Herdhitze. A delegation of workers, led by Maracchione, troops in. Maracchione informs Klotz that his son has fallen into the pigsty and been completely devoured by the swine, with “not even a scrap of clothing left.” Herdhitze says, “Shhh! Then not a word to a soul.” [If you are of a punning turn of mind, you could label this scene “The Silence of the Hams.”] The End.
- Written and Directed by Pasolini
- Produced by Gian Vittorio Baldi
- Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli, Armando Nannuzzi & Giuseppe Ruzzolini
- Costume Design by Danilo Donati
- Edited by Nino Baragli
- Original Music by Benedetto Ghiglia
- Pierre Clémenti as the Young Cannibal
- Jean-Pierre Léaud as Julian Klotz
- Alberto Lionello as Mr. Klotz
- Ugo Tognazzi as Herdhitze
- Anne Wiazemsky as Ida
- Marco Ferreri as Hans Guenther
- Franco Citti as the Cannibal
- Ninetto Davoli as Maracchione
There are currently several Pasolini video releases, to own (on DVD and Blu-ray), rent, stream, or borrow from your library, as well as Paolini books. NOTE: If you use my Amazon Affiliate Pasolini link for a purchase, I may receive a commission that helps support this site, at no additional cost to you. Regardless, I stand by my opinions.
Original Video Release (Used for This Review)
Water Bearer Films has released a DVD with fair image and sound from the best available elements. Let me also note that every millimeter of footage from each reel is included, i.e., we see the normally hidden markings on the end of reels. Since this print made available, as we learn at the end of DVD, “through the co-operation of the Pier Paolo Pasolini Foundation, Rome,” and because Pasolini several times invokes Brecht, famous for his “alienation effect” (used to distance audiences from the work at hand so that they could better contemplate its political implications), I am assuming that this is intentional – although I could find no reference to it in the several books and articles on Pasolini which I consulted.
Why No Chapter Stops? I checked with the DVD’s distributor, Water Bearer, about why there are are no chapters, i.e., the entire film is presented in one continuous track. This was a condition made by the Pasolini Foundation, which controls the rights to the film, to encourage viewers to watch it in its entirety. (The only other filmmaker who insists on his DVDs being released without chapters is David Lynch.) I certainly understand and respect the Pasolini Foundation’s decision, but you are welcome to refer my outline of the film however you wish. And chapter stops or not, we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Water Bearer Films (which specializes in gay & lesbian, international, and silent cinema, as well as filmed plays and musicals) for releasing the DVD of this important part of Pasolini’s cinematic legacy. And yes, their other releases do indeed contain chapter stops.
- Original theatrical release aspect ratio of 1.85: 1
- Original mono soundtrack
- Never before seen 30 minute documentary on the life and works of Pasolini
- $29.95 suggested retail
Reviewed April 11, 2003 / Revised October 17, 2020