Directors: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Screenplay: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Starring: Rosanna Schiaffino, Jean-Marc Bory, Orson Welles, Mario Cipriani, Ugo Tognazzi
Producers: Alberto Barsanti, Alfredo Bini & Angelo Rizzoli
Running Time: 123 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
In 1963, legendary Italian producer Alfredo Bini brought together three of Italy’s hottest writer/directors; relative newcomers (at the time) Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti as well as the great Roberto Rossellini, and combined their talents with the equally (if not more) popular Jean-Luc Godard to create the multi-director portmanteau (or anthology) film Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG (a.k.a. RoGoPaG). The largely radical filmmakers were given free reign to create what they liked to each fill around 30 minutes of screen time, limiting themselves “to recounting the joyous beginning of the end of the world”. Each of them tackle the theme in their own unique way, resulting in four standalone pieces of work that don’t attempt to rub shoulders in any way. Unfortunately, like most of these anthologies, the results are rather hit and miss. So let’s have a separate look at the four films within RoGoPaG:
‘Illibatezza’ (Virginity) is Rossellini’s entry to the collection and for me was the weakest, getting things off to a poor start. Telling the story of attractive air hostess Anna Maria (Rosanna Schiaffino), who is stalked by the irritating American tourist Joe (Bruce Balaban), most of the film consists of dated, unfunny comedy as Anna Maria tries her best to shun her admirer. It’s all rather dull until the film’s point/twist finally comes around to make things vaguely more interesting when Anna Maria’s husband is advised to tell her to dress like a skank to ward off Joe who is “drawn to her purity”. Unfortunately this backfires as it turns Anna Maria into a woman no longer attractive to her husband. I’m not sure what sort of a message this is, but at least it adds a talking point to the dreary antics that preceded it.
Godard’s entry ‘Il Nuovo Mondo’ (The New World) is clearly the work of the French hell-raiser. Featuring fractured use of sound and ‘vérité’ style footage, it takes place in Paris (but still played out in Italian) after a nuclear blast. Rather than destroying the city and obliterating its residents, the explosion creates a strange sort of purgatory where everybody takes pills constantly and seem to have lost their “liberty and morality”. Our protagonist, played by Jean-Marc Bory, seems to be the only person aware of this and through a voiceover tries to get to the bottom of what has changed. This is an interesting little oddity, but ultimately doesn’t really go anywhere and ends a bit too abruptly to fully satisfy. Stylistically it’s interesting and fans of Godard should check it out, but people on the fence with the director, like myself, won’t be won over.
After a wobbly first half to the collection, things start to improve with Pasolini’s ‘La Ricotta’ (as in the curdled cheese). Orson Welles plays the director of a film depicting the crucifixion where the cast and crew show little respect for the subject, acting crudely and making aggressive demands. Added to this depiction of the modern day breakdown of religion, Pasolini takes swipes at Italian politics through following the trials and tribulations of Stracci (Mario Cipriani), an extra playing one of Jesus’ fellow ‘crucifixees’ that is on a constant hunt for food but is forever knocked back or ridiculed by those above him. This is a darkly funny short that is the most handsomely shot film of the collection with Pasolini utilising gorgeous colour photography for the shots supposedly through the film-within-a-film’s camera. Not everything works though – it is rather heavy handed in its messages, feeling quite overdone even in its mere 30 minutes of running time. A couple of the gags feel a bit silly and dated too, including a sped-up sequence bringing to mind Benny Hill. On a whole it’s possibly the strongest film in the collection though and is worth a watch.
Finally we get ‘Il Pollo Ruspante’ (Free-range Chicken) from Ugo Gregoretti. Strangely enough, although it’s by the least renowned or famous writer/director in the anthology, this was possibly my favourite of the four. The film is an indictment of consumerist culture, following a family led by Togni (Ugo Tognazzi), who tries his best to stand up against production line mentality (as shown in a speech about free-range chickens to his son), but falls victim to the pitfalls of capitalism throughout. This is a fun little satire with a couple of surreal touches (turning the customers in a chain restaurant into battery chickens). It may not be as visually or artistically interesting as Godard or Pasolini’s entries, but it’s easily the most digestible, entertaining and complete film of the four.
Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG as a whole was a bit disappointing for me. I thought Rossellini’s entry was downright poor and although they got steadily better and ended on a fairly high note, nothing ever hit the highs that these directors are capable of (I’m not aware of Gregoretti’s other work it must be said). As a curious slice of 60′s vogue it will likely interest a lot of people, but I found it a flimsy and slightly tedious product of its time.
Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG is out now on Dual Format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. The picture and sound quality is very strong, especially evident on the beautifully shot La Ricotta. Strangely for a Masters of Cinema release there are no features other than a trailer, but it is a fairly obscure film. You do get a 56-page booklet as usual. I didn’t get sent one to look at this time around, but I’m sure it’s full of interesting essays and interviews as always.