Anna Magnani is Mamma Roma, a middle-aged prostitute who attempts to extricate herself from her sordid past for the sake of her son. Filmed in the great tradition of Italian neorealism, Mamma Roma offers an unflinching look at the struggle for survival in postwar Italy, and highlights director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s lifelong fascination with the marginalized and dispossessed. Though banned upon its release in Italy for obscenity, today Mamma Roma remains a classic, featuring a powerhouse performance by one of cinema’s greatest actresses and offering a glimpse at a country’s most controversial director in the process of finding his style.
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the first dual-layered disc of this two-disc set. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The black and white transfer comes off looking quite good. Sharpness and detail is fairly strong throughout. There are some softer, fuzzy looking moments but it more than likely has to do with the source. Contrast looks excellent, presenting strong blacks and grays and I couldn’t pick up any instances of noise or other artifacts.
The print used for the transfer is also in excellent shape. There are a few moments during short sequences where damage gets heavy presenting an assortment of scratches and marks but these are few and far between, the image overall presenting very little in the way of damage. In the end it's a nicely restored black and white transfer.
Criterion presents a fine Italian Dolby Digital mono track. Magnani is a rather flamboyant performer (and apparently irritated Pasolini to some small extent) and she delivers her lines in a much louder voice than the rest of the actors in the film, but thankfully the track has been beautifully remastered as it never comes off distorted or harsh and sounds quite natural overall. A lot of the dialogue has been looped over (specifically for the younger actors and reasons for this are found in the supplements) but it’s actually not that noticeable and doesn’t stick out. The music used throughout the film presents excellent range and is probably the best aspect of the track. In all a much better sound presentation than what I was expecting.
Criterion has put together a rather impressive little two-disc set here that gives some great information about Pier Paolo Pasolini and his career, though I have to say I was a little sad to see that there wasn’t all that much on Mamma Roma itself, in fact, Pasolini’s first film Accattone seems to get more attention.
The first disc presents a couple of features. A small Poster Gallery presents a selection of posters for both Mamma Roma and RoGoPaG, a 1963 film containing Pasolini’s short film, La Ricotta (it also had segments made by Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, and Ugo Gregoretti.) It’s presented in the same fashion as most galleries on DVDs where you use the arrows on your remote to navigate through the images. There are also close-ups offered over certain areas of the posters.
The final supplement found on the first disc is the Theatrical Trailer for Mamma Roma, presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The remaining features are found on the second dual-layer disc.
Criterion has put together three interviews, totaling less than 25-minutes and are presented in 1.33:1. The first interview is with Bernardo Bertolucci, who worked with Pasolini as assistant director on Accattone. It runs only six and a half minutes but is a decent interview as Bertolucci recalls Italian cinema at the time (spaghetti westerns and comedies were all the craze) and the acceptance of Pasolini’s first film, Accattone. He also makes comparisons between the styles of that film and his second film Mamma Roma.
The second interview, running about 9-minutes, is with Tonino Delli Colli, who worked as director of photography for most of Pasolini’s films. He begins with how he first worked with Pasolini, having been called in to replace the DP on Accattone after the producers didn’t like the look of the film. He talks about shooting Mamma Roma, and how the two had to compromise on how the film looked (Colli says he initially wanted his name removed from Accattone because he didn’t like the look of it) and even gets into some of the problems that they ran into using mostly non-professionals for the young boys in the film. Since Pasolini was more concerned about the look of the performers they were stuck with children who could barely read their lines, so Colli had them count from 50 to 100 during their sequences and then the dialogue would be looped over during post-production. Colli also mentions working with Magnani, who was concerned about her looks on film, and also how Pasolini had him frame her scenes, which he kept tight for the most part since she liked to act with her hands and Pasolini couldn’t stand it. This was probably my favourite interview of the three since it focuses quite a bit on Mamma Roma and also offers better insight into Pasolini’s filmmaking technique.
The third interview is with Pasolini biographer Enzo Siciliano. Also running about 9-minutes, Siciliano talks about Pasolini’s career overall, including how he went from writing to filmmaking, his visual style, religious visuals, and even gets into artistic influences on the director. Some good information and analysis here, though I think I got more out of Colli’s interview. Still, all three together offer some great insights about the director and his work.
The big feature on here is the 1995 documentary Pier Paolo Pasolini. It looks to be taken from a video source so the quality isn’t great but it runs 58-minutes and presents an interesting, if not overly thorough portrait of the director’s career and his life, presenting these along with his views (including a negative view of Italian society at the time) through readings of his written work along with interview clips. It examines common themes found throughout his films, specifically death, and offers plenty of clips from a selection of his films. It’s pretty good and does offer an effective examination of the man, though I guess I felt it still kept itself at a distance from its subject. Amusingly, despite the fact that the source appears to have been video, the picture quality for the clips from Salo still manage to blow away the picture quality found on Criterion’s original release of that film on DVD.
The final disc supplement is a nice little surprise. Criterion has seen fit to include Pasolini’s short film La Ricotta, which first appeared in the 1963 film RoGoPaG. The film, controversial on its original release (there is a text introduction from Pasolini heading the film stating his intent was not to mock the subject matter presented in the film,) tells the story of a film production of the Passion of Jesus, with Orson Welles as the director. The film focuses on one of the extras playing one of the thieves who were hung on a cross next to Jesus. I had never seen this film before and have to say I was surprised by it, finding it somewhat amusing. Still, as stated in the notes on the menu, it presents a shift in tone for Pasolini from his previous two films to the films that would follow and while I have to watch it again I think it makes for a great introduction to Pasolini.
As for the transfer I’m a little disappointed to say it’s not very good. It is presented in anamorphic widescreen in the aspect ratio of about 1.85:1, but the transfer feels rushed, presenting a somewhat messy interlaced image. The black and white sequences look the best, if a little yellowish. Detail is okay. The colour sequences are a bit of a mess, though with over-saturated colours and contrast levels a little too much on the dark side. Comparing one sequence in the film with a clip shown in the Pasolini documentary I have to say the clip probably looked a little better on the documentary. Still, it’s a treat to get this film on its own and I was happy just for this fact.
As usual you will also find a booklet with this release. There’s an excellent essay by Gary Indiana on Mamma Roma, La Ricotta and Pasolini, covering the themes present and the rather wild sounding controversial release for both. There is then an excerpt from an interview conducted by Oswald Stack and focuses on Mamma Roma, specifically the actors (Pasolini wasn’t completely happy with Magnani’s performance), reception, and comparisons with his previous film. The next piece is an excerpt taken from Enzo Siciliano’s biography on Pasolini about La Ricotta, and then finally we get a continuation from the Stack interview where the two discuss La Ricotta, briefly mention RoGoPaG, the casting of Welles, and the trouble Pasolini found himself in after the film’s release. The booklet as a whole makes for an excellent read and offers some great notes and analysis on both films found on this set.
Criterion in all has put together a nice collection of supplements, though I wish there was more information here about the main feature, Mamma Roma (maybe a commentary?) Still, what is found here offers a fair bit of information about Pasolini and the inclusion of La Ricotta is a pleasant surprise.
The transfer for both video and audio is excellent and the supplements, while not completely fulfilling, are all worth your time. A nice release for one of Pasolini’s early works.