Tuesday, November 22, 2022


Not since Prince Charming fitted the glass slipper onto Cinderella’s foot has a rags-to-riches story been so compelling as Luca Guadagnino’s affectionate portrait of Salvatore Ferragamo, the “shoemaker to the stars.” Finessing the fairytale of Cinderella casts Ferragamo in the role of the prince whose adoration and persistence transforms the young girl’s life forever. And isn’t that the dream of every young girl, let alone every prince? In reality, Ferragamo enhanced the lives of a multitude of women. 

As dreams and fairytales and heroes journeys go, Ferragamo has been true to the template. As a young man he proceeded—as psychologist C.G. Jung advised—from the dream outward, careful to dream in detail, answering the call of his own true nature and, thereby, seeking and gaining his fortune and—as mythologist Joseph Campbell coined it—finding his bliss. As a filmic project, Guadagnino’s Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (2020) likewise remains true to its desire of profiling the remarkable talent and ingenuity of Salvatore Ferragamo who lifted himself and his family out of poverty, was a witnessing participant and active architect of cinema as we now know it, and revolutionized the creative art and patented industry of fashion. 

Guadagnino achieves his portrait of Ferragamo through strong, stylistic elements. First, his talking heads invite reminisces from family members (Ferragamo’s wife Wanda and their children and grandchildren), and informed commentary from fashion and film critics, and art historians, including an ever self-bemused Martin Scorsese whose shoulders jiggle up and down every time he cracks a joke. But the documentary also allows Ferragamo to speak for himself through his 1955 memoir (from which the film lifts its title), narrated by actor Michael Stuhlbarg. This composite narrative of memoir, recollection and erudition takes the viewer on a journey from Bonito, Italy, to southern California and the auspicious beginnings of Hollywood, then back to a storied studio in Florence, Italy. 

It’s when Ferragamo secures the Palazzo Spini Feroni in Florence to serve as his shoemaking studio that Guadagnino cleverly and deftly scores an instrumental version of “It’s So Nice To Have A Man Around the House” and he romanticizes Ferragamo’s home movie footage of his young bride Wanda by playing “I Get Misty”. These musical touches add romance and humor to the dream. 

I was intrigued, if not a bit put off, however, by Guadagnino’s stylistic choice of having his camera shoot his subjects literally over his shoulder, an odd visual convention that insinuated the director into his film. Perhaps the intent was to parlay a conversational feel to his interaction with his interview subjects? Notwithstanding, I found myself wishing he had cropped himself out of the image. Whereas in his memoir Ferragamo looked back over his shoulder to account for his life, Guadagnino’s convention seemed an effort to look forward towards his recitation of Ferragamo’s tale. 

Aspects of that tale are undeniably fascinating for being an insider’s history. Ferragamo’s clients numbered film stars and celebrities from his earliest days in Hollywood, including Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, Dorothy and Lillian Gish, and Cecil B. DeMille. Later, he designed shoes for Eva Peron, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Greta Garbo, Andy Warhol, Princess Diana, and a handbag or two for Margaret Thatcher, among many many others. Not only was Ferragamo present when moviemaking elevated itself into the seventh art, but in commensurate alignment he raised the fashion of shoemaking into an art form. His most famous invention is arguably the "Cage heel" (featured on the film’s theatrical poster), but in 1938 he also created “The Rainbow”, the first instance of the platform shoe designed for American singer and actress Judy Garland. The shoe was a tribute to Garland's signature song "Over the Rainbow" performed in The Wizard of Oz (1939) feature film.

Nuggets of experiential wisdom reveal themselves in the recitation of Ferragamo’s biography. He is notable for underscoring that—through perseverance and ingenuity—one can be personally successful during a cultural moment of difficulty (i.e., the Depression). Keen on filing patents for his designs and inventions, Ferragamo understood that innovation works against decadence. And, again on a Jungian note, the synchronic encounter between Ferragamo and Christian Dior and their subsequent collaborations give credence to being in the right place at the right time; though one could argue that Ferragamo was a master at insuring that whatever place or time he was at would be nothing but right.

The film’s final sequence is a thrilling Busby Berkley-ish animation of Ferragamo’s creations; an extraordinary “shoe ballet” created by stop-motion artist PES. When the red slippers click three times in that sequence it’s as if to say that home is not only where the heart is, but more importantly, where the dream lives.


Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams is a Sony Pictures Classics release, runs 121 minutes, is in English & Italian with English Subtitles, and is rated PG by the MPA. It has opened in select cities, including Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinema, San Francisco. It opens December 2, 2022 at The Flicks in Boise, Idaho.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

THROWBACK THURSDAY—A Resonant Friendship: Ninetto Davoli on Pier Paolo Pasolini

Ninetto Davoli.  Photo: Unknown.
"Everything about him has a magical air ... an endless reserve of happiness."Pier Paolo Pasolini on Ninetto Davoli

Nine years ago in 2013 Luce Cinecittà and Fondo Pier Paolo Pasolini / Cineteca di Bologna brought their major touring retrospective of 22 newly remastered 35mm prints of Pier Paolo Pasolini's films to the Bay Area through an association with Colpa Cinema, the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco, and the Castro Theatre, Roxie Theatre and Pacific Film Archives. Part of a larger national tour, the series traveled from New York and Los Angeles, through the Bay Area, and then continued on to Columbus, Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, and Toronto.  As value added, Luce Cinecittà sent Ninetto Davoli to accompany the series in the Bay Area; a charmingly affable ambassador for Pasolini's ouevre. 

Giovanni "Ninetto" Davoli was born in San Pietro a Maida, Calabria, but moved to Rome when he was just a baby. Nice, always smiling, he was discovered at the age of 14 by poet, novelist and director Pier Paolo Pasolini who first cast him in a non-speaking role in Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew, 1964), and then in a leading role alongside Italy's celebrated comic actor Totò in Uccellacci e uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows, 1966). Davoli mostly played comical-naïve roles in several more of Pasolini's films, the last of which was Il fiore delle Mille e una Notte (Arabian Nights, 1974). After Pasolini's death in 1975, Davoli turned increasingly to television productions. 

All this time later, I am still grateful to Amelia Antonucci of the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco for offering the opportunity to sit down to talk to Davoli during his 2013 Bay Area visit, and to Antonia Fraser Fujinaga for her translative assistance. The transcript of that interview was originally published at Fandor’s Keyframe, and I offer it now to time with the latest Pasolini retrospective honoring the centennial of his birth currently ongoing at the Pacific Film Archive through November 27, 2022. 

* * *  

Michael Guillén: Ninetto, it's such an honor to meet you today, as it's been a delight to watch your performances in the traveling retrospective of Pier Paolo Pasolini's films. 

Ninetto Davoli: I'm very happy that Pasolini is being brought to the whole world through this traveling retrospective. He was an important person to me in my life. He gave meaning to my life. I'm happy for any chance to speak about him and present his work. It's really not up to me to say it; but, Pasolini was someone whose time on this Earth has been felt. More than three decades after his death, his books, his writings, his films still have great value. It gladdens my heart that he's still spoken of and that so many young people will find out more about him and come to value him through this traveling series. I have met many young students who are almost crazy about Pasolini, enthusiastic over learning about him, listening about him. He's someone who has left an important mark upon the world and it's interesting to see all that the world has gone through since his death, confirming what he predicted through his writing.  

Guillén: Let's first discuss Pasolini's eye for discovering talent; his unerring ability to pick faces out of a crowd that he knew could be cinematic. 

Davoli: That was a characteristic of Pier Paolo's: to work with simple people and non-professional actors that he would find in the streets. He loved working with non-professionals because he wanted to show in all his films a true and authentic and—in a manner of speaking—a clean reality. He started this practice with Accatone (1961), Mamma Roma (1962) and La Ricotta (1962). He chose authentic faces, though sometimes it's true that he used important actors; but, mostly for commercial reasons and for reasons of distribution, and to have attention paid to his films.  

Pasolini & Davoli.  Photo: Unknown.
Guillén: It's my understanding that you were one of those authentic faces he saw on the streets? That you were among a group of boys who were watching the filming of La Ricotta and his eye singled you out? 

Davoli: Yes. The meeting with Pier Paolo Pasolini was pure chance; one of those accidents that occur in life. I was watching the filming of La Ricotta, which was a strange thing for me at the time as a young boy to watch a film being shot. Then, Pasolini was introduced to me and he patted me on the head, caressed my hair, which intimidated me. Later, he offered me a small role in his next film Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Matthew, 1964). I didn't want to be an actor. I was very nervous about it. I was shy and genuinely scared; but, Pier Paolo kept insisting, "Please do it." I asked him, "Do I have to actually speak?" I was concerned. He reassured me and said, "No, no, no. You don't have to speak. Just make some facial expressions, make some movement" and so because of that I said, "Well, all right then" and I accepted. I was cast in a small uncredited role as a shepherd playing with a child and, as he promised, all I had to do were a few gestures and movements, and some facial expressions; but, I was still uncertain about it. I have to say, however, that The Gospel According to Matthew has a special place in my heart because I was entering a new world. The emotions that were associated with that will always stay with me.  

Guillén: Pasolini's ability to see iconic qualities in people resulted in an ensemble of countenances that he used again and again to populate his films. This intrigues me how—watching his films as a body of work—the same faces keep appearing, serving an almost archetypal function. Your presence in his films, for example, carries a particular energy. As you and Pasolini became great friends, did he ever express to you his rationalization for this? And what it was that he saw specifically in you, your unique energy, that he wanted to include among his ensemble? 

Davoli: As I said before, Pasolini liked street actors because of their natural qualities. In me, he found the naturalness of the world he knew growing up. It wasn't so much an "ability" as it was that in these faces—including mine—he could see the story he wanted to describe. He could see the story in potential through these faces and he found a reality in them. He preferred imperfection. The young people in his "Trilogy of Life"—Il Decamerone (The Decameron, 1971), The Canterbury Tales (1972) and Il fiore delle mille e una notte (Arabian Nights, 1974)—were taken off the streets because he saw the story in them. He saw in their faces the possibility for them to be part of that story. His ability, if anything, was to perceive the right face. 

Franco Merli.  Photo: Unknown.
As for what he saw explicity in me, I knew. I collaborated with him to find these actors. He and I would roam the streets together choosing faces and—in the same way, according to the same criteria—he chose me. For example, Franco Merli, "Francino"—who played the young lover Nur Ed Din in Arabian Nights—I found working as a gas station attendant. I had gone to the station one morning to fill up my car and Francino recognized me and said, "Ninetto, give me an autograph, you're famous!" I said to him, "Would you like to play a part in one of Pasolini's films?" He was, of course, overjoyed. So, later on, I brought Pier Paolo to the gas station to meet Francino. I told him, "I have found your face; I have found the person to play Nur Ed Din." When Pier Paolo saw him, he said, "Oh yes! Absolutely." He, too, felt the same thing. We were on the same wavelength, the same frequency; we resonated. I had understood. I had perceived what it was he wanted. This was how I was able to help him choose characters and how I understood why he chose me. 

Totò & Davoli.  Photo: Unknown.

Guillén: Let's talk about Pasolini's comic masterpiece Hawks and Sparrows. So here you are, 15-16 years old, in your first major role with Italy's most famous comic actor Totò. What can you tell me about Totò and what you learned working with him?

Davoli: Hawks and Sparrows was my first important film and even now—after making nine films with Pasolini—it remains my most beautiful experience. It was a turning point for me. It was incredible. It was implausible. I was wondering, "Am I dreaming? How can I be acting with such a big star?" It was a real drama for me to be thrown deep into this world of making art. I was terrified for about 10-15 days; but, after that, I got over it because I realized it wasn't that hard after all and then I really started to have fun. Totò's congenial personality resonated with me. I really liked him. It was important working with Totò because after a few days he started teaching me the tricks of the trade and how to be an actor. I learned a lot from him. I had already liked him through his performances. I often went to the cinema to watch his films, and the films of Laurel and Hardy, and Charlie Chaplin, so I was already well-disposed to him. After some time we became almost a pair. We worked well together. We bounced off each other. We bantered. We clicked. We made three films together with Pasolini: Hawks and Sparrows, La Terra vista dalla luna (The Earth As Seen From the Moon, 1966) and Che cosa sono le nuvole? (What Are the Clouds?, 1967). Totò was a great, seasoned master of his craft when I was just starting out. He didn't show off. He wasn't conceited. He was a simple, unassuming person and Pasolini saw this. He saw that Totò had a face and a being, a personality, an inner simplicity, and—although he was a big star—deep down he was, and always remained, just an ordinary person like me. 

Guillén: One of the reasons I enjoyed Hawks and Sparrows so much was because I felt it demonstrated that you were, in effect, Pasolini's actor fetiche. I sensed that you expressed his joy and his capacity for fun. Can you speak to Pasolini's sense of humor? In conjunction with that, since you and Pasolini were such good friends and you were often with him—I've seen footage of you sitting beside him when he was being interviewed on difficult political and religious subjects—how much of that serious content impacted your own intelligence? 

Davoli: Pasolini was not a cheerful person. Quite the opposite. He was, for instance, very shy. When he met me, it was like meeting himself as a younger person, as a boy. He saw in me the joy that he would have liked to have had, but hadn't had. He saw the cheerful boy that he would have wanted to be but now could no longer be. He suffered a lot as a child. He was the son of a school teacher and a colonel in the Army. He had a conflicted relationship with his father Carlo and this traumatized him; it stayed with him. His father had a commanding air. He was authoritarian, strict and austere. It was from his mother Susanna that he received tenderness, understanding and compassion. She was all that he loved. He adored her his entire life. In meeting me, he encountered the joy of living. 

When he went to conferences and spoke with intellectuals, he used a high intellectual register. He used big words and convoluted expressions and I, being very young, couldn't understand what he was saying, although later on when I grew up and spent more time witnessing this side of him, I learned and came to understand. He used this high register of intellectualism when he was interacting with intellectuals, while with the exact same intelligence—the same weight in a sense—he was simple with simple people. As I said, with the same weight, the same equilibrium, he could harmonize with simple people, like me. He could adapt with great purpose to these two different ways of being. 

Alberto Moravia & Pasolini.  Photo: ?
When we were seeking actors together, it was all joy. It was fun, cheerful and lighthearted. When he was at conferences or spending time with his intellectual friends like the poet Alberto Moravia, then of course he used this heavier style; but, somehow, he didn't manifest the disparity, the break, between these two worlds. It's not that Pasolini didn't love the intellectual world, but his preference was for the more natural human world. When we were together, it was as if a weight had fallen off him. He lightened up. He was more free and relaxed. He was looser and more cheerful. When he was with the intellectuals, he was much more restrained and less carefree. When we were looking for actors, or playing football, or wandering around, he was very natural. He enjoyed it. That was what he preferred; but, his intellectual weight, the power of his intellect, likewise existed at the same time. Therefore, it inevitably brought him into contact with this heavier world, which was not his preference. It wasn't that it was hard for him, perhaps it was tiring, but he was an intelligent man. It wasn't as if he had to compete with them, as if they were more clever than him, it wasn't that at all. It's just that he was happier when he could be carefree in his other, simpler world.  

Guillén: Not only did he circle in simple and intellectual worlds, but also spectacular ones, as with his collaboration with Maria Callas in the film Medea (1969). Can you speak to that? 

Maria Callas & Pasolini.  Photo: ?
Davolil: Although I made nine films with Pasolini, unfortunately Medea was not one of them because—while it was being filmed—I was undergoing my mandatory military service in Italy, so I couldn't take part; but, I did get to meet Maria Callas. I didn't know who she was but Pasolini told me she was a famous singer. I didn't quite understand what he meant by that because singers, to me, were pop stars. At the time when they were filming in Rome, Pasolini told me to go to the Grand Hotel where Callas was staying to keep her company. So I said, "Okay...." 

 I drove up to the hotel in my spectacular new sports car, which I'd just bought because I had finally made some money. I was all excited about it. The doorman at the hotel was dressed in a uniform and he looked like a policeman. He said, "Good evening. Would you like to give me the keys to your car?" I said, "What?! It's my car. I'm not giving you the keys to my car. I'll park it myself." I was afraid he was going to steal it. 

After I parked it, I went up to Maria Callas's room. I didn't quite know what to say to her because I didn't really know much about her so I said, "Maria, you are a good singer aren't you? How do you have such a voice? How do you do it?" She said, "I have this voice because of years of study, constant exercise, and exhausting practice every day." So I asked, "How do you practice?" She said, "Put your hands here on my back" and she let out a high note. I felt her prodigious muscles and said, "Maria, you've got some incredible muscles there!" She said, "Yes, those are the fruits of years of effort that I was telling you about." 

I started to get bored because I was very young and—though she was a famous star—I didn't know much about her. So I asked her, "What should we do? What do you want to do?" and she said, "Whatever you want." I thought, "Oh dear." I said, "Should we go around Rome, perhaps? Should we go for a little drive?" She said, "That's a wonderful idea. How splendid." I thought, "Oh dear. I have to take her around Rome." So off we went in my wonderful new vroooom vroooom sports car racing around Rome like nobody's business and I took her to a dodgy bar; the type of bar in a seedy part of town that Pasolini often portrayed in his films because he knew them so well. So we walked in and I said to the owner, "Look who I brought. I brought Maria Callas!" He said, "Yeah, right, you brought Maria Callas." No one could imagine that I would take Maria Callas to a dodgy bar! He came around and saw that, indeed, it was Maria Callas and stepped up to meet her. 

I tell you this story because it's an example of how bizarre my experience was with Maria Callas. I was bowled over by this extraordinary person. She was exceptional. She had an incredible internal strength. Just as I was bowled over by her, and the owner of the bar was bowled over by her, so was Pasolini. We were all overwhelmed by her. From that night was born something of a flirtation, a love story, between her and Pasolini. 

 Guillén: Once you completed your military service, you then participated in Pasolini's "Trilogy of Life", first as Andreuccio of Perugia in The Decameron in 1971, then as the rascal Perkin in The Canterbury Tales in 1972, and finally as Aziz in Arabian Nights in 1974. Let's discuss those films. 

Davoli: It's a bit hard to understand now, but the importance of The Decameron was that Pasolini uncovered the naked bodies of men and women for the first time in an artistic film. When I say "naked", I mean naked in its poetic sense of showing the love between two people. When the film came out, people weren't yet used to that kind of thing and they were shocked. There were lawsuits and the film was considered by some to be mere pornography. The Decameron definitely caused a great hullabaloo. Despite the controversy, however, the film was a colossal success and was Italy's highest-grossing film for close to a year. Furthermore, after it came out, it was copied by other film directors who made The Indian Decameron, The African Decameron, Decameron II, Decameron III, spawning a whole series of Decameron films. So, again, at that time people were struck by that kind of cinema. It's an excellent film, even though it doesn't necessarily have the same effect now as it did back then. People are used to this kind of nudity now.


Davoli as "Perkin".
The Canterbury Tales was hard work for me because it was all done in English. All the actors were English themselves, generally found on the outskirts of London. The thing is, though, neither I nor Pier Paolo spoke any English. When we went around looking for potential actors, this was how we did it: we would roam the streets of London looking for people who might look right and—if Pier Paolo would come across someone who he thought might work—he would send me to use my broken English to approach them with some boring excuse like asking for directions. As the person would start to give directions, Pier Paolo would stand some distance away, maybe five meters, and would use his hands to frame shots to see if this person would look right through the camera. If he thought they might work, he would then approach and the two of us would try in our broken English to offer the person a part in the film. But if he didn't think they would work, he would signal to me unobtrusively and I'd say, "Thank you very much" and walk away. The film was shot mainly in London and Canterbury and what was particularly tiring for me was my role, my character. I don't want to say that it was an imitation of Charlie Chaplin but it was, in a sense, an homage to him. To enable me to do that, I had to watch all of Chaplin's films to understand, internalize and capture Chaplin's style in order to be able to make an appropriate homage. Charlie Chaplin's daughter Josephine was an actress in The Canterbury Tales and—after the film came out—a really wonderful thing happened. Charlie Chaplin said to his daughter, "If you see that boy, tell him he did a good job." To receive a compliment from Charlie Chaplin was something incredibly special for me. It will stay with me forever. 

During one of our many trips together, every evening before we went to sleep Pier Paolo would tell me stories from The Thousand and One Nights, and at the end of the trip we analyzed the stories and decided which ones to display in the film Arabian Nights. He wrote the script with the help of Dacia Maraini. Then we went scouting for locations in Yemen, Africa, Thailand, and so on, to find small villages that would fit the themes we had imagined. After that, we considered the characters. As we've discussed, one of Pasolini's abilities was to find realistic characters who looked authentic. Again, he chose locals, non-actors, so that for The Decameron they were all Neopolitan, for The Canterbury Tales they were all English, and for Arabian Nights they were African and Middle Eastern people. This entire process of collaborating on the scenes, scouting for locations, and finding the actors would take six, seven, to eight months before we actually started to shoot the films themselves.  

Guillén: I'm sure you're aware that Abel Ferrara is planning a biopic of Pasolini's life starring Willem Dafoe in the lead role? Are you involved as a consultant on that project? Or will you be a cameo in that film? 

Davoli: Yes, I am aware of that. Willem Dafoe phoned me in Italy to suggest collaborating on this film and I discovered that he would be playing Pasolini. I said to Abel Ferrara, "I'll do it; but, first, I want to know what you're going to say? What you're going to tell about Pier Paolo?" He said that he wanted to talk about his last days and his final tragedy and I said, "If it's only that, if that's all you want to talk about, then I won't accept. I won't do it." He said, "But, no, it takes his death as the starting point and then goes back to tell his whole story." So I said, "Write the script first and, if I like it, we can collaborate." That's the point where we are now. I'm waiting for the script. If I like it, I'll become involved. If not, I won't. [Note: Apparently, Davoli approved of the script and played the role of Epifanio in the film.]  

Guillén: My understanding is that Ferrara wants to approach Pasolini's death by way of a Rashomon construct. Since Pasolini's death is, to this day, shrouded in mystery and controversy, it's my understanding that Ferrara is intending to propose a multi-perspective view on Pasolini's death. For example, one of the theories that I've become aware of that truly shocked me was a supposition put forth by Giuseppe Zigaina in the documentary Pasolini and Death: A Purely Intellectual Thriller (2005) that Pasolini orchestrated his own death. Do you have an opinion on that? What do you feel actually happened? And I apologize in advance if this is too personal an inquiry; but, I'm genuinely curious. 

Davoli: Of course it makes me very sad to speak of this and I don't like to talk about this because the night before he died we were together and the next day I was called to identify his corpse. Obviously, this is painful for me to discuss. From what I understood from Ferrara, his film was not intended to talk about Pasolini and his story but just about his final tragedy; not him, just his gruesome death. I told him, "If all you want to talk about is his horrifying death, not him and his story, then I won't do it. But if you do want to talk about his entire story—including inevitably his gruesome death as part of the story but not the total focus—then I will do it." 

As for this idea that Pasolini orchestrated his own death, I think it's nonsense. From my perspective, the way that I see it, almost certainly Pier Paolo stumbled on a bad situation. He had an unlucky night, which ended badly. It was an accident. It wasn't intended. It wasn't planned. These later rumors that his death was political or staged—all these elaborate stories that circulated later on—I think they're all nonsense. They're all just rumors.  

Guillén: Thank you so much, Ninetto. It's been such an honor to share smiles with you today.

Thursday, November 10, 2022


My response to the casting and narrative elements of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew (Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, 1964) ("Matthew") was originally published on Keyframe, Fandor’s digital magazine, on October 2013. A few years earlier over a meal at a Chinese restaurant I had been quite honored and excited when Jonathan Marlow and Kevin Lee invited me to write for Keyframe, and I was commensurately disappointed when in 2018 Fandor announced the layoff of its staff and the sale of its assets to an undisclosed investment firm. Along with many other contributors, most of my pieces for Keyframe disappeared into the ether. Along with the demise of Greencine and SF360, this became an ongoing cautionary tale in backing up my writing and not assuming that the sites to which I contributed would maintain archives. 

As transmogrifications go, however, at Deadline in early 2021 Dade Hayes announced that Fandor had been acquired by Cinedigm with “plans to update and expand its offerings”, including a relaunch of Keyframe. By October 2021 Fandor launched as a revamped independent streaming service, remaining available as an add-on channel on Amazon Prime (as it had been since its initial launch in 2016). Keyframe was likewise brought back, with admirable new content, and some archival offerings. A cursory review of their archival listings, however, didn’t include any of my work. In fact, it appeared that most of the “archival” listings were from articles written under the new management. 

And yet, a Google search brought up an archived version of my Matthew essay, written as it were by “Fandor Staff”, though it doesn’t seem to have been included in either Keyframe’s archives or articles holdings. As 5,667 archived pieces and 5,412 articles are listed as available, perhaps they intend to rotate these offerings? Your guess is as good as mine since it appears the courtesy of notification to the original authors, let alone attribution, doesn’t seem to have been considered. Notwithstanding, I was glad to find my essay on Matthew available online, even if in the same breath I recognized how unflattering broken links can render a piece. Addressing the wear and tear that time effects on an online article, and attaching my name to my work, I revisit my Keyframe article with ameliorative edits. 

* * * 

There are times after watching commercial theatrical releases when I struggle to muster enough enthusiasm to write even one appropriate sentence in response, obliged as I might be to some earnest publicist expecting a compensatory pound of flesh for a comped ticket or a festival badge. Such films—more often than not—fade swiftly from my memory like morning mist in direct sunlight. In recent years, rather than have my body decimated by obligation, I've elected to support the industry of filmmaking by preserving my silence and buying a ticket like every other moviegoer rather than feeling obliged to write a single word, which—as stated—frequently refuse to appear anyways. Nor am I motivated or entertained by ranting over how conspicuously mediocre most contemporary movies have become, like many front line reviewers who could readily be roaring extras in a Roman coliseum, gesticulating thumbs down, while innocents are being fed limb by limb to the lions. I quietly leave the theater and go home and splash cold water on my face. "They're only movies," I tell myself, staring vacantly at my reflection as the roar of the coliseum subsides. Enough said. 

But now and again I watch a movie that doesn't allow itself to be "just" a movie, and maybe it's a film that's nearly 50 years old, alluringly freed from market pressures, but still so incredibly current and relevant that it won't let go, demanding articulation and praise, insisting on being understood through language, and thereby undeniably elevating itself into the so-called seventh art by the sheer force of creative, competent will. Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to Matthew (Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo, 1964) is one such film. I sometimes wonder if I am ever going to stop writing about this movie? Though, truthfully, I am delighted I even want to. 

During these last few weeks I have been asking myself why Pasolini's Matthew has taken such a hold on me? Perhaps its gravitational grip alludes to a painterly quality in which I have found a contemplative orbit? Even as its narrative urgency bespeaks politicized necessity? It abounds with conflicting energies: acknowledged as possibly the best film about the life of Christ, made by an affirmed Marxist atheist homosexual. Peter Bradshaw's description for The Guardian that Matthew "looks as if it has been hacked from some stark rockface" comports with Bosley Crowther's earlier comment in his New York Times review that the film's language is "flinty", suggesting Matthew's essential beauty is lapidary. There's a sculpted quality to Matthew, perhaps more rough-hewn than burnished, constructed as an homage to neorealism yet contaminated by stylized, purposeful anachronisms. Like the best pieces of Christian art, Matthew speaks to the history of Christian art, and situates itself along a vast continuum. In this historical layering it resembles something sedimentary. 

I'm not a Christian—I’m not going to pretend to be—but, I was raised in the Catholic faith and I cannot escape an imbedded sense of the cultural importance of the Bible as spiritual literature, specifically the narrative of The Passion. I know that having to believe is as important—if not existentially moreso—than believing. I believe faith and knowledge do not cancel themselves out but are symbiotic by design. I have to believe that. 

When I was researching Pasolini, I was struck by his devout atheism, his refusal to believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God, but also his awareness that the teachings of Christ—moreso today than ever—speak to revolutionary purpose. Pasolini may not have been a religious man, he may not have even been a spiritual man, but his sensibility was certainly mythopoeic, with a deep respect for the sacred, which he believed revealed itself through nature. He felt the sacred surfaced both in landscape and the human body. I have no difficulty understanding and appreciating how interwoven this is into his cinematic vision. It's not so much that The Gospel According to Matthew confirms a Christian viewpoint as it does a revolutionary and sacred one. 

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert understands that there is no single version of the story of the Passion. "It acts," he writes, "as a template into which we fit our ideas, and we see it as our lives have prepared us for it." For me, that's exact phrasing. As someone raised in the Catholic faith, I nonetheless always felt outside of it, partly because of the Church's stance on my sexual orientation. This caused me to engage in a debate with organized religion for many years and I educated myself on the early history of Christianity and its mythic antecedents in Assyrian-Babylonian narratives, as taught to me by comparative mythologists Joseph Campbell and Nanos Valaoritis. As a full scholar for San Francisco's C.G. Jung Institute over 20 years, I studied with Bible historians such as Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong and Gnostic scholars such as Gilles Quispel (who, in fact, helped smuggle The Gospel of Thomas ("Thomas") out of Egypt at Jung's bequest). Thomas, in fact, became my favorite of the gospels, even if excluded from the official canon. I studied with Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan who both advocated an appreciative perspective of the Historical Jesus

One could argue this is the same perspective applied by Pasolini in constructing The Gospel According to Matthew. During my theater years I was given the chance to play the apostle Peter in Magdalen, a production that incorporated the Gospel of Thomas verbatim within the script, and I can recall to this day how powerful it was to enact words written millennia ago. It felt as relevant as it felt ritualistic. Thus, I have a clear appreciation of Pasolini's similar experiment of incorporating the Gospel of Matthew verbatim into his filmic adaptation. These experiences—studying the history of Christianity, the Gnostic Gospels, and the Historical Jesus, along with enacting the Gospel of Thomas on stage—is what prepared me (in Ebert's sense) for viewing Pasolini's The Gospel According to Matthew. What follows are my responses to Pasolini's project, negotiated through a second, more informed, viewing after researching the film.  

The Iconic Countenance 

Margherita Caruso as the young Mary.
The face as icon reveals the sacred through countenance, where countenance is understood as an interaction between mind and heart. Pasolini's film starts out with close observances of the faces of a young woman and a slightly older man. Without either being identified, without a word being said, Pasolini defamiliarizes the standard Passion narrative by keeping the audience guessing as to their identities. Why is this young woman so troubled and tentative? Why is this man at turns near-angry and seemingly frustrated? As the camera pulls back, you see that she is pregnant and it's only then that you deduce she is Mary and he is Joseph. Clearly this is not Joseph's child and he's not sure how to handle the situation. He walks away from her to clear his thoughts, tires, stops to rest, and dreams. In his dream he is visited by an angel who tells him to rejoice that Mary has been impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Until the angel speaks, nothing has yet been said aloud, the narrative has followed Matthew's description in his gospel, and the story has been told purely, through images, through iconic countenances, staged in frontal compositions against backgrounds that suggest Byzantine art. Even after Joseph has received the good news, the ensuing scene returns the film to silence, relying on a relay of facial expressions that express Joseph's willingness to father the holy child, and Mary's relief in his willingness to do so. They both smile demurely, tentatively, as they accept parentage as their sacred fate. 

Margherita Caruso as the young Mary.
This visual device continues well into the film, both to introduce familiar characters to the narrative, but also to profile the social world within which the narrative rests. It did not go unnoticed by detractors at the time that many of the faces used by Pasolini were those of the disenfranchised people he knew from the borgata, the slums of Rome. Straight off, through visual countenance alone, Pasolini has rendered a class critique, casting his Passion narrative with members of a discriminated class, non-actors who by their very being, their countenance, reflected authenticity and—through the "authentic"—the sacred.  

Kenneth Turan considers Pasolini's "marvelous faces of local people, each one a book in itself." Russell Hittinger and Elizabeth Lev find their iconicity somewhat strange and grotesque, serving to disarm spectatorial imaginations that have been liturgically and textually informed. At Little White Lies, David Jenkins writes: "One thing that connects all of Pasolini's films is the unflinching way he photographs faces and bodies, finding a tremendous, grotesque beauty in the extras and supporting cast, displaying an almost Christ-like empathy towards all of God's creations." [Note: Unfortunately, both commentaries by Hittinger and Lev and David Jenkins are no longer available online.] 

Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus
At the London Review of Books, Michael Wood likewise extols the achievement of Matthew's opening sequence, and Pasolini's repeated usage of the iconic countenance to further the Passion narrative. "Again and again," Wood writes, "we see faces—of Peter, of Judas, of Jesus himself—before we see anything else. They stare out of the frame at us, often expressionless. We stare at them and wait to know what they are looking at (apart from us, that is), what they can see inside the frame of their own world. We can often guess what it is, since we know the story, but it's tempting to wait anyway, just to let the weird non-acting work on us. This is not a matter of the neo-realist trick of using amateurs, as if amateurs were somehow more real than professionals. 'You are working, aren't you?' Brecht used to say to his actors. It's a matter, as I have already suggested, of not acting at all, whether you are any good at it or not. It's a matter of being photographed. The faces talk, not the expressions on them, or the absence of expression. In their differences from each other, in their actuality, their sense of belonging to a particular place and time (Italy, 1964, not Palestine, 28), they enact not the story of Christ but the mystery of the story." 

In a slightly variant—though no less interesting take—Ara H. Merjian (author of Against the Avant-Garde: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Contemporary Art, and Neocapitalism, 2020) traces the affinities and contradictions between the unlikely pair of Pasolini and Andy Warhol in his think piece for Frieze magazine entitled "Mascots & Muses", which—in effect—eroticizes (i.e., queers) Pasolini's visual strategies. Merjian writes: "Notwithstanding the ideological chasm that separated them, Pasolini's and Warhol's eccentric orbits overlapped in a number of instances. Apropos of eccentricity, critics accused both men's work of unreconstructed narcissism—a thinly veiled euphemism for homosexuality and its bearing upon their art. Each, however, held at bay his identity (or identification) as a gay man, even as he helped to shape queer culture before Stonewall. Both enjoyed the company of mascots and muses, drawing upon them for artistic collaboration and personal frisson alike. The slow succession of apostles' faces in Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) recalls nothing if not Warhol's contemporaneous screen tests, a mix of eroticism and transcendence in their own right. Both Warhol and Pasolini availed themselves of delinquency (not to say criminality) as the stuff of aesthetic experiment." 

Otello Sestili as Judas.
As an aesthetic (if eroticized) experiment, the casting of the Apostles is equally noteworthy for reflecting Pasolini's literary acquaintances and suggesting Pasolini's sly projection of himself onto the figure of Christ (despite choosing someone else to portray Jesus). Otello Sestili, who played Judas Iscariot, may have been a ruggedly handsome truck-driver from Rome; but, Enzo Siciliano (Simon), became Pasolini's first biographer years later with his 1995 volume Who Killed Pasolini?; Alfonso Gatto (Andrew) was an author, poet, art critic and painter who later played a physician in Pasolini's Teorema; and Giorgio Agamben (Philip) was an eminent intellectual and philosopher. Of the other twelve, most were—as Merjian described them—"mascots" that Pasolini had discovered in the slums, and only the quite beautiful Luigi Barbini (James) joined Pasolini's ensemble after sidetracking momentarily into the sword and sandal feature Hercules the Avenger (1965). Barbini returned to work with Pasolini in Porcile and Medea, but most notably in Teorema where he wordlessly seduced Massimo Girotti in the train station with a proffered crotch.  

The Massacre of the Innocents & The Visitation of the Wisemen 

Raymond Durgnat.  Photo: Unknown.
Several narrative challenges were presented to Pasolini in adapting Matthew's gospel to the screen; a gospel known less for narrative continuity and cohesion than for episodic moments depicting Christ's life and ministry. As Raymond Durgnat indicated in his critique for Films & Filming, Pasolini always responded intelligently to the challenges built into each episode, "but with varying success." Durgnat was critical of Pasolini's robust enactment of Herod's massacre of the innocents—which he considered "historically dubious"—and felt there were more important narrative elements Pasolini could have pursued but didn't. As is, however, Kenneth Turan thought Pasolini's usage of the music Prokofiev wrote for the German slaughter of babies in Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky fit perfectly for the scene, though Covey—having difficulty suspending disbelief—countered with a less appreciative take: "Herod's slaughter of the innocents provides some scenes that are both shocking and—at least, as I have always found them—unintentionally hilarious. The mothers running from the slaughtering soldiers with babes in arms are clearly carrying dolls in many cases, and when some of them are thrown in the air this becomes far too obvious, in a classic Saturday Night Live dummy-throwing sort of way." [Note: Covey’s film site Covey On Film no longer exists.]


Jesus As Non-Actor 

Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus.
Pasolini condenses the biography of Jesus into three swift temporal strokes. Jesus is born and visited by the Wisemen, he is next shown as an infant of three or four, and then as a young man of 33. As an infant, he obeys Joseph's call and comes running towards him with a toy sword in his hand. Straightaway through such a tender image, Pasolini signals the revolutionary Jesus. By the time Enrique Irazoqui appears on the screen, we are ready for a spirited Jesus zealous for rebellion. 

In her March 2004 piece "The Jesus Christ superstars; From DeMille to The Passion of The Christ, movies of the Gospels story have been charged with controversy" written for The Herald, Hannah McGill outlined Irazoqui's involvement in the project. McGill writes: "Arguably the most striking screen Jesus wasn't even an actor by trade. Enrique Irazoqui was a Catalan economics student and political activist, who, at the age of 19, visited Pier Paolo Pasolini to discuss the film-maker's work and to seek his support for the Spanish leftish movement. Pasolini, who had been searching for a lead for The Gospel According To St Matthew (1964), was struck by Irazoqui's resemblance to the long-faced, wide-eyed, sorrowful Christs of El Greco's paintings. 'Even before we had started talking,' the director later recalled, 'I said, "Excuse me, but would you act in one of my films?" ' Irazoqui's own response, as he later remembered it? 'I told him I had more important things to do, like the construction of the universal brotherhood.' Irazoqui was eventually persuaded to see the points of connection between Pasolini's mission and his own; but he provided only the physical presence required by the film. His lines were dubbed by the actor Enrico Maria Salerno [who likewise provided the voice of Clint Eastwood in the Italian version of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy films]. 

Pasolini and Irazoqui during filming.  Photo: Unknown.
"Some were far from convinced. Pauline Kael referred to Irazoqui as 'a loathsome, prissy young man', whose crucifixion she positively welcomed. Certainly he's a frail, smooth-skinned boy; it's not easy to accept that he's 33 years of age, or butch enough to have ever earned a living as a carpenter. But Irazoqui's lack of narcissistic actorly affectations was suited to the film's austere style, while his unsettling combination of hauteur and vulnerability fitted Pasolini's volatile, unpredictable Jesus. Meek and mild one minute, stormy-browed and threatening the next, this is the difficult, contradictory Jesus who preaches forgiveness but also declares, 'I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.' He also appears insecure about his own effectiveness; Pasolini emphasizes his tendency to fret and complain when attendance is patchy at his sermons, and to promise chastisement for those who fail to follow him. Rather than emanating sleek self-containment, and issuing forth perfectly finished nuggets of wisdom, Pasolini's Christ is stroppy and troubled, only sporadically confident about his own duties and responsibilities. 

"Upon his return to Spain after shooting, Enrique Irazoqui had his passport confiscated by the Franco government for appearing in a film they considered to be Marxist propaganda. In later years, he became a noted economist and a professor of literature. Most intriguingly, he has earned an entirely separate fame, as a chess master and the creator and organizer of the world's largest chess computer tournament. A lifelong agnostic, Irazoqui now says: 'I have not returned to read the Gospel, and the relation that I have with Christ is through people who ask me.' " In a separate piece for The Scotsman, "A Story To Die For", Hannah McGill detailed that Enrique Irazoqui not only had his passport confiscated but was sentenced to 15 months' hard labor by the Spanish government. [Note: Hannah McGill’s Herald and Scotsman articles are no longer available online.] 

At The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw described Enrique Irazoqui's portrayal of Jesus as "eerily, almost disturbingly self-possessed, emerging from the landscape like Bergman's Death in The Seventh Seal. His rhetoric is ceaseless and fluent, and his sermonizing is persistently presented as a kind of dreamlike montage of inspired insights and mysterious aperçus, with Pasolini's camera jump-cutting from Jesus's face at different places and times. This really is raw film-making, in a political vernacular which speaks of Pasolini's high, theocratic Marxist belief in the sovereignty of the people, like the publicans and the harlots that Christ said understood him."  

Baptisms of Divine Silence 

Mario Socrate as John the Baptist.
One of Pasolini's strategies to work out the challenges of adapting scripture to screen was to create a parallel narrative between Jesus and John the Baptist (Mario Socrate), who Bosley Crowther described as "a subdued firebrand in a poet's angular frame." Philip French described Socrate as "scrawny, balding, undernourished, with a mouthful of bad teeth and the radiance of a true believer."  For me, however, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist at the River Jordan links The Gospel According to Matthew to a later version of the Passion: Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Rossana Di Rocco as the Angel.
Countenances that express themselves through non-verbal communiques differ significantly (if slightly) from a related yet separate element in Pasolini's narrative that impressed me when I first watched the film; that of divine presence as silence. As synopsized earlier, in the film's opening sequence Joseph has wandered away to work out his thoughts and feelings. He wearies and stops to rest and—just before falling asleep—watches some children noisily playing. He is bolted awake by complete silence and—where the children had been playing—now stands a solitary figure, a beautiful and slightly androgynous angel (Rossana Di Rocco), who speaks the will of God. 

Perhaps this would not have caught my attention had I not already observed the same cinematic strategy in The Last Temptation of Christ when John baptizes Jesus at the River Jordan. As that scene is introduced in Scorsese's film, the River Jordan is flanked by penitents and zealots, several whipping themselves, emitting cries of pain. When John baptizes Jesus, suddenly there is complete and total silence. Scorsese's camera pans the riverbank—the self-flagellators are still jumping up and down and whipping themselves—but there are no cries, no sound at all. This was Scorsese's way of depicting the descent of the Holy Spirit who speaks the word of God, "This is my son in whom I am well pleased…." Scorsese, of course, doesn't require these words to be said aloud because those who know the story are familiar with what the Holy Spirit says. It's a potent ellipse: delivering a familiar line of dialogue in a well-known story through complete silence. At the time I saw The Last Temptation of Christ, I considered this downright brilliant; but, now that I've seen Matthew, I would be interested to determine whether Scorsese lifted his interpretation of divine presence as silence directly from Pasolini's Matthew

Paola Tedesco as Salome.
One final visual element that intrigued me within Pasolini's rendering of the parallel narrative of John the Baptist is how he shows Salome, quite a young girl, playing jacks before being called to dance before Herod. Her childish innocence makes her request all the more brutal. How chilling that such a lovely traipsing dance could result in a severed head on a plate.  

The Miracles 

To depict the miracles written about by Matthew in his gospel, Pasolini had to create his film as if he believed in these miracles—or, more accurately, as he knew others believed in them—but, such divinity is problematic for a revolutionary, historic Jesus and might not have necessarily even been Pasolini's point, which might account for why Pasolini presents the miracles so matter-of-factly—more as a discourse on how miracles have traditionally been depicted cinematically—and how cinematic tradition comports itself with a religious one, both to advance the narrative strategies of each other. Pasolini fulfills the tradition, but not without slyly winking and revealing this age-old collusion. 

As astutely observed, again by David Jenkins at Little White Lies: "Even though Pasolini's film offers traditional religious nourishment aplenty, there is still the sense that he's delicately manipulating the material to mine a more sophisticated seam. The manner in which he films the actual miracles is fascinating: they all occur very suddenly with a single cut. Not only is he happy to accept that Jesus was able to perform physical miracles, he also makes a point about cinema. For Pasolini, every cut is a potential miracle." 

At The New York Times, Bosley Crowther writes: "The cryptic performances of the miracles—the healing of a hideously grotesque leper, the feeding of the multitudes, the walking on water and others—are pictorially done so that they seem the simple, straight, quick-change recordings of inexplicable phenomena." At The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw describes the healing of the leper as bearing a "strangely unselfconscious innocence" and Philip French winnows out Pasolini's treatment of the Miracle of the Fishes: "The miracles are confronted head on, but when the loaves and fishes suddenly appear they're rapidly covered by flies. This is how this fringe of the Roman empire must have appeared to people at the time." 

As for Jesus walking on the water—a scene Pasolini later regretted as overly capitulative to the faithful—Enrique Irazoqui explained on the Arts & Faith bulletin board: "It was difficult not to fall in the water every other second. The scene was shot with a long tele lens and it was a matter of faking the walk lifting one leg at a time over a wooden board tied up to some empty big drums. Fun, but very wet a few times." [Note: The Arts & Faith bulletin board is no longer online.]  

The Sermon on the Mount 

Along with the pure imagery of Matthew's opening sequence, Pasolini is at his most inventive in depicting Christ's ministry, his teachings and sermons. Pasolini unpacks the text of the Sermon on the Mount by fracturing this familiar narrative into many moments of time differentiated by changing weather. Shifting angles, various combinations of light and shadow, instill a sense of a ministry repeated over time with different—perhaps increasing?—audiences. For me this sequence lends visual provocation to the controversial Q Source, an oral tradition from which many notable portions of the New Testament are said to have originated, including many of the parables delivered in this sequence. As the film's centerpiece, this montage distills Pasolini's perspective, which places prime importance on Christ's teachings delivered by way of an oral tradition. For Pasolini, the Historical Jesus and the Resurrected Christ capsize into the essential truth of these teachings. 

Covey emphasizes that Pasolini "cherry picks some of the most famous material from the Sermon of the Mount" but in no order that corresponds to Matthew's gospel or the others. Covey argues: "This apparent randomization amounts to a classic Marxist tactic—defamiliarization. By shuffling the deck he seems to be challenging the churched viewer to hear these texts, many of them quite radical, for the first time. And by presenting Jesus against various backdrops he makes it clear to possible objectors that he is anthologizing the material." [Note: Again, Covey’s review is no longer online.]


The Final Week 

Enrique Irazoqui as Jesus.
The events leading to Christ's crucifixion are handled quickly and somewhat dispassionately by Pasolini. Bosley Crowther noted Pasolini's simple staging of The Last Supper "as a gathering of a tired, disquieted group" and I love Crowther's line regarding Gethsemane where he says Jesus "looks upon his delinquent disciples in Gethsemane with deep and curling hurt." In his intelligent critique, Michael Wood asserts: "Christ returns from his agonized prayer in Gethsemane … to find the disciples sleeping. It's easy to see the fable here, and we all know it. The saviour keeps watch, his followers doze: this note of slackness and betrayal is everywhere in these pages of the gospel, and the sleep is just a minor, almost comic variant on Peter's tragic denial of his master. But here, with exemplary discretion, Pasolini shows us three men huddled at the foot of a tree, not symbolically inattentive, but literally asleep like actual people, and when they wake and are rebuked they are merely, humanly puzzled. They won't understand their defection till later, and Pasolini's image lets us understand this, catches the moment before it goes. It's an instance of what Godard called truth in the cinema, a piece of passing time seen passing." 

Settimio Di Porto as Peter.
Crowther describes Settimio Di Porto's Peter as "a fine, solid, foursquare man" and adds "the omission of the sound effect of a cock's crow after Peter's third denial—helps to achieve a fresh illusion of the unfolding of an ancient tragedy, or at least the illusion of the performance of a most reverent and sincere Passion Play." 

Finally, as Mary, Pasolini cast his own mother Susanna, which John Wrathall at The Independent opined had more to do with Pasolini's ego than with any desire to further his mother's acting ambitions. "And, if we're being ungenerous," Viv Wilby quips at Mostly Film, "casting your mother as Mary and dedicating your film to the memory of the recently deceased pope, John XXIII, seem like the acts of a sentimental altar boy." [Note: John Wrathall’s Independent piece is no longer online.] 

Having already surrounded himself with apostles cast from his "mascots" and literary associates, Pasolini had already impressed himself onto the figure of Jesus, and casting his mother as Mary may have been his way of amplifying his Christian moment.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

AFF 2022—OPENING NIGHT: The Blue Caftan (2022)

Husband and wife Halim (Saleh Bakri) and Mina (Lubna Azabal) run a traditional caftan store in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas. In order to keep up with the commands of the demanding customers, they hire Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), who Halim takes on as an apprentice. Halim seeks to impart his experience as a maalem, a vanishing breed of Moroccan craftsman specializing in stitched embroidery on ceremonial caftans. In an early scene between the two men Halim instructs Youssef on the basic skill of cutting fabric, advising him to always give himself some leeway. “If you cut too much,” he cautions, “there’s no going back. And always leave yourself an extra centimeter. That’s your margin. The maalem’s centimeter.” Which approximates the measure of discretion that each man owes himself when dealing with hidden desires.  

Maryam Touzani’s sophomore feature film The Blue Caftan (2022) premiered at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section, where it was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize. It has likewise been chosen as Morocco’s official submission for the “Best International Feature Film” category of the 95th Academy Awards (2023). The Blue Caftan’s controversial subject matter is compassionately finessed by Touzani and movingly enacted by seasoned performers Bakri (The Band’s Visit, 2007) and Azabal (Mary Magdalen, 2018) and newcomer Missioui. It’s a brave opening night choice for the 26th edition of San Francisco’s Arab Film Festival and bound to be a crowdpleaser when it raises the curtain at the Castro Theatre on Friday, November 11, 2022 with the director present to field questions. A second chance will be had to catch the film when it screens at the Roxie Theater on Saturday, November 19, 2022.