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Whether you agree or not, you'll have a very tough time stomaching this movie (if you can find it at all). Pasolini's message isn't just distasteful, it isn't delivered very well either: The film is rough, the sound is erratic, the pace is jerky. In all honesty it's a terrible, terrible experience -- but give the guy credit: It's certainly unique.
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But a substantial part of the beauty of Mamma Roma is that you don't have to go deep to emerge from it satisfied. The premise of the film is universal: The title character (played by Anna Magnani) is reunited with her 16-year-old son Ettore (Ettore Garofolo), who was raised by others (just who remains unclear). Hoping for a better life for him than she had, she aspires to better herself and to provide her son with opportunities in a post-war Italy that still struggles with the consequences of its defeat. The details with which Pasolini fills in this sketch are what made it the cause of a furor in its day: Mamma Roma is a prostitute, and her plans for bettering her son's life include such schemes as blackmailing a restaurant owner into hiring him. Mamma Roma is committed to her son like any mother, but, being a streetwise woman, her care extends to arranging for his deflowering in the bed of a fellow whore. She works hard to shed her streetwalking past - she even buys a stall from which to sell vegetables - but a love from her past (Ettore's father?) disrupts her life with some regularity, demanding money from her and sending her back into the night. And, most tragically, the gains she manages can be hard to discern amid the barren legacy of Fascism in which she lives - her new, "better" home looks much like her previous one - and Ettore himself begins to reject her, still stinging from her absence during his youth. Before long, he begins to decipher the clues offered him about his mother's livelihood, and he turns to crime.
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Secca is awfully rough around the edges, and viewers more accustomed to polished work like Last Tango in Paris and The Dreamers are going to have a tough time reconciling it with Bertolucci's early attempt here.
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Fewer than 1,000 words of dialogue are spoken during the film. That actually sounds like a lot, but the average person speaks at a rate of 280 words per minute (probably more in Italian). That translates to less than four minutes of dialogue during the film's 98-minute running time.
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