Il vangelo secondo Matteo evacuates Gospel’s religion with the cinema of poetry, allowing free indirect images to burn like the fire this time. For Pasolini, poetry articulates a free indirect chorus of expression. In verse, prose, and movies, Pasolini merged the languages and images of others with his own, creating new revolutionary subjectivities. His first published poems, written in a fusion of Friulian dialect and his own tongue, created a language that never existed, but was grounded in his ethno-linguistic bicycling adventures of the late 1940s. The language Pasolini invented carried with it the consciousness of all those he collected phrases from and called forth a people unburdened by being.
Pasolini released Il vangelo secondo Matteo, the year before his 1965 essay “Il cinema della poesia.” The article on “The Cinema of Poetry” defines an eponymous group of movies in terms of their use of free-indirect images. Pasolini emphasizes the “pretextual” free indirect, a mode in which a subjective inflection conditions all, or almost all, of the a film’s images, starting with the first shot.
Il vangelo secondo Matteo articulates free indirect images to produce the subjectivities of ancient Palestinians, Pharisees, scribes, Gabriel, John the Baptist, Salome, the apostles, Mary, Joseph, Satan, Jesus and god the father. By showing us how the conditions of their time formed the subjectivity of the characters, Pasolini secularizes them so that they might serve the revolution. Nothing sacred can remain so when concatenated in a cause and event chain — least of all divine consciousness. By the time of his baptism, Pasolini’s Jesus had developed an animus against the state and the rich stronger than John the Baptist’s hatred of the powerful because, from the time of his birth, he had witnessed Power’s brutality toward Mary and Joseph. Up until the obligatory happy ending of the Gospel, Pasolini portrays almost every appearance of the miraculous ambiguously, so that it can be seen as part of the ordinary course of things. For example, Gabriel only appears to Joseph while he is asleep so that the audience might think that he dreams of the angel.
Pasolini had made references not just to paintings, but also to art history or, better, to art as the history of material culture, from the beginning of his career as a director. The Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpture (1668?) on the bridge in Accattone doesn’t primarily function as a metaphor for the main character, or to beautify the mis-en-scene, it maps a fact about the history of urban development in Rome. According to Pasolini, the citation of Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation Of Christ (c. 1480) at the end of Mamma Roma doesn’t just portray Ettore’s death through a single painting, it also summarizes a complex history of earlier baroque painting through its use of chiaroscuro. (See D.B.’ Schwartz’s Pasolini Requiem, page 398.)
In Il vangelo secondo Matteo, Pasolini articulates the art historical material as a pretextual free indirect, a technique he will rely on in later films to forge a path away from aesthetics. Il vangelo’s ancient Palestine appears to us through the lens of 15th century Italian painting. For example, anyone who has seen Piero della Francesca’s Discovery and Proof of the True Cross (c.1640) will recognize the millinery stylings of the Pharisees from Il vangelo. Pasolini’s film can be seen as a series of citations of Italian paintings of scenes from the New Testament produced between the 15th and early 16th centuries. The series becomes a free-indirect image of the early renaissance and extends the film’s secular revolutionary impetus through lived time unto our own present.
The renaissance free-indirect differentiates itself into “dividual” processes of subjectification through portrait-like shots edited into point of view clusters, as shown in these sequential images of Salome and Herodiade exchanging looks with Herod.
In such shot pairs, direct depictions of the subjective perception of 2 or more characters emerge in the free indirect of 15th century painting. The film viewer can distinguish at least three levels: the subjectivities of the characters in the shot-pair, that of the renaissance series, and the agency narrating the film as a whole. Il vangelo’s narration demonstrates that the subjectivity of each character comes from a combination of the Gospel’s setting and the historical traces in the painting series.
Sometimes Pasolini renders subjective becomings through such shot counter-shot pairs similar to those used to depict conversations in the classical cinema, but he also uses a variety of other structures. In some examples, a shot of a character looking precedes or follows clusters of often mobile shots framing social landscapes. The characters in the social landscapes look back at the primary seer, producing yet more filigreed differentiation within Il vangelo’s dividual scheme of subjectification. The thoroughly secular technique of pretextual free indirect allows Pasolini to articulate social conflicts that lead to militancy.
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Would make a good double feature with Strange Days.