- Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
- Year: 1961
Accattone was the first film directed by the acclaimed and controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini. It explores the poverty of the slums on the outskirts of Rome, a setting he had already used for novels Ragazzi di Vita and Una Vita Violenta. The main character, Vittorio Cataldi, is a small-time pimp and sponger (his nickname 'Accattone' roughly translates into English as 'beggar').
Although Accattone was his first film, Pasolini was already established in Italy as a writer; as well as publishing poetry and two novels, he had contributed to screenplays for films including Fellini's Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita. His novel Ragazzi di Vita had been also filmed in 1959 (as La Notte Brava, for which he wrote the screenplay).
Pasolini's prose was notorious for its explicit descriptions of Roman slum life and its ambiguous morality, and these were both traits that he transferred to his filmmaking. Pasolini rejected comparisons between his work and the neorealism of preceding decades, pointing to what he considered the optimistic and credulously humanistic elements of neorealism, which represented a very different approach to his own.
Living on the very fringes of Italy's economic boom, Accattone and his friends are committed to never working, instead making their meagre living from pimping. When Accattone's sole prostitute is first beaten by a gang and then arrested and imprisoned, he is driven deeper into poverty. He soon meets another girl, the innocent Stella, with whom he falls in love. After a half-hearted attempt to pimp her out ends with his having to retrieve her from the Appian Way, he decides to try to break his old habits.
The character of Accattone, compellingly played by Franco Citti in his first role, may be a victim of his situation, but of course it's a situation for which he is also largely responsible, clinging to an ideal that is less than idealistic. It is impossible to either wholeheartedly condemn him or to support him, and it's this refusal of the film to provide pat answers and moral judgements that gives it both its narrative strength and interest value as a document of the human condition. Pasolini's sense of visual style is remarkably formed for a debut film, the eloquence of his camera taking the place of the authorial voice of his prose. In the framing of a shot or the glance of a passer-by, the film is filled with a sense of the fate to which is Accattone is being drawn.
Accattone is available in the UK (region 2) as part of the excellent Pasolini Volume 1 boxed set released by Tartan Video. It's also been released in America (region 1) as a single DVD with a documentary about Pasolini.