Oedipus Rex (1967)

This solid mythical epic based on Sophocles’ most famous text sees Pasolini passionately delivering a rousing tragedy, a precursor and counterpoint to his boisterous and even more provocative ‘Trilogy of Life’.   

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,405

Dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini
1967 | Italy | Drama | 104 mins | 1.85:1 | Italian & Romanian
NC16 (passed clean) for mature theme, sexuality and some nudity

Cast: Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, Alida Valli, Carmelo Bene, Ninetto Davoli
Plot: Rescued from abandonment, Oedipus is still haunted by a prophecy – he’ll murder his father and marry his mother.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
Source: Compass Film

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Myth; Prophecy; Tragedy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

His first film shot in colour, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s adaptation of Sophocles’ most famous text is one of his most passionate works.  He delivers a rousing tragedy of a man who fulfils the prophecy of killing his father and making love to his mother. 

The central role is played by Franco Citti (who first worked with Pasolini in his 1961 feature debut, Accattone, also in the titular role) with equal passion as he brings a tormented mythical figure to life. 

Structured as a triptych, the middle (also the longest) segment tells the story of Oedipus set in the medieval era. 

With stunning cinematography and production design, one might see this as a precursor and counterpoint to his boisterous and even more provocative ‘Trilogy of Life’, as Pasolini takes us back in time without the necessity of lavish sets or glorious costumes. 

“What we don’t want to know does not exist, but what we want to know exists.”

What we see is an economical, stripped-down version of a Hollywood epic (but then again, Hollywood would have been too afraid to touch this material). 

Its earthy, organic texture makes Oedipus Rex seem so authentic and real, despite its theatrical setups—somehow Pasolini finds that elusive balance that he manages to replicate again later on with the likes of The Decameron (1971) and Arabian Nights (1974). 

The bookending segments are set in a far more modern time—the prologue immerses us into the 1920s, which is remarkable in its distinct lack of dialogue; the epilogue, in contrast, is set in the 1960s as Oedipus is seen playing the flute. 

Traversing across time, Oedipus Rex is haunting, eternal, and surely one of the great accomplishments of Pasolini. 

Grade: A-


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