Masters Of Cinema #115 - RoGoPaG - DVD Review

'it is Godard's segment (The New World), which most clearly draws on the apocalypse-like fears of the 1960s'

If The Avengers were 1960s European film-makers of notable repute then there would be some short odds on the inclusion of Jean-Luc Godard and Pier Paolo Pasolini in the final team, though long odds on that very team ever coming together. RoGoPaG brings not only Godard and Pasolini to write and direct their own segments of a four-part anthology but supplements them with Ugo Gregoretti and Roberto Rossellini, no bit-part players themselves. Producer Alfredo Bini is left with the thankless task of playing Nick Fury to the multi-talented, ego-ridden, collective.

As in most anthologies, there is tension within RoGoPaG between story style and tones. Notionally these are 'comic epsiodes' of the 'post boom era' but a dark heart lurks within them to some degree or another, characterised by the film's claim in its trailer and opening titles that the directors are actually concerned with the 'beginnings of the end of the world'.

Certainly it is Godard's segment (The New World), which most clearly draws on the apocalypse-like fears of the 1960s. Jean-Marc Bory can be glimpsed throughout reading newspapers covering The Cuban Missile Crisis, no doubt still high on the agenda in 1963. Yet the real fear here seems to be of oddly similar frivolity to the first segment, Roberto Rossellini's Virginity, in which a beautiful air hostess (Rosanna Schiaffino) has to fend off the unwanted attention of an American tourist. As with the air hostess' husband in Virginity, the end of the world for Bory's character seems to be primarily marked by his love's (Alexandra Stewart) new found freedom. The fear of an external threat - both related to America - taking away a loved one, weighs heavy in both segments.

Where Godard completely masters his tone though (The New World is dark, oppressive, yet shot beautifully; if it premièred at Sundance tomorrow it would win awards), Rossellini seems to know not what he is aiming for. Virginity is a scene away from being a Horror film, blending flirtatious comedy with genuine dread, as Bruce Balaban's lascivious tourist gets increasingly physical with Schiaffino's refined beauty. In the end, Rossellini goes as far as to call Balaban a psychopath but the director is so busy mixing in ideas of an Oedipal conflict and playing around with notions of voyeuristic cinema (Balaban literally loves Schiaffino's image, having captured her on camera) that he never gets round to making his point entirely satisfactorily.

'Virginity is a scene away from being a Horror film, blending flirtatious comedy with genuine dread, as Bruce Balaban's lascivious tourist gets increasingly physical with Schiaffino's refined beauty.'

Also somewhat unsatisfactory in Rossellini's segment is the handling of his lead female character. Annamaria is forced to shed herself of her restrained nature in order to lose Balaban's letch but in doing so she simultaneously alienates her husband. There is no win here for the character but perhaps Rossellini's point is more subtle: the end of the world will be brought about by men whose treatment of women is governed by impulsive desires and an inability to see beyond surface level beauty. Welcome to the rejection of 1960s free love.

If Godard's piece leads the way in terms of interest and execution here, then it is Pasolini's The Ricotta that follows shortly behind. Contextually, this saw the director charged with contempt of religion and certainly there is still much there which may incite some frowns amongst those of faith.

The Ricotta occasionally comes across as confused and the imagery presented in a cave where the protagonist (Mario Cipriani) is peppered by food thrown by the actors in Orson Welles' film-within-a-film, now representing a group of grotesques, seems particularly off-key. Beneath this though there are clear criticisms of a Catholic church which, in Pasolini's eyes, preaches God's words yet lets the poor starve and the rich gorge. Clearly Pasolini's piece is related mainly to the Italian system of the 1960s but that the censors saw fit to take the time to pay attention to him shows that he was potentially on to something and there are wider implications and insinuations here which transcend beyond their geographical and chronological moment. The Ricotta also proves to be by far the funniest of the four 'comic episodes'.

Whilst Pasolini's film is so rich of subtext its plot occasionally gets lost, Ugo Gregoretti's finale, Free Range Chicken, is all overt message, little metaphor. His rather attractively brash couple, Mr and Mrs Togni (Ugo Tognazzi and Lisa Gastoni), are the perfect vessels: here are two people who know their own mind, yet cannot help but get drawn in by the evil grip of consumerism. The message is rammed home when the supposedly 'free range' patrons of a diner, change on screen in to a group of hens, in battery-like stalls.

It is in this final segment that, for the first time, this anthology risks second-guessing itself. In a sub-genre which invites internal contradictions, this must be counted as a success for Bini and his team. Whilst Pasolini has Welles quoting from a text which claims the modern day world understands new structures but not old - in a segment dedicated to finding the place of religion - Gregoretti has Tognazzi failing to find his way in to an ultra-modern diner, as uniformity of message is rejected in favour of individual points being borne out.

Perhaps it is this contradiction which best sums RoGoPaG up. Here is a film which presents the anxieties of a turning point generation, as the 1960s struggled to assimilate varying influences and worries, whilst avoiding the end of the world as it knew it.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

RoGoPaG is released in the UK on Monday 27th August

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