Oedipus Rex (1967)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Tragedy  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

Pier Paolo Pasolini's adaptation of Oedipus Rex manages the difficult trick of being both fascinating and uninvolving. It's a frustrating film, one that many will find pretentious and/or boring and that others will find coldly beautiful. Whatever one's reaction, it is unlikely that many viewers will feel satisfied by Oedipus; even those who justifiably admire it for its sparsely stunning visuals and for the intensely personal stamp that Pasolini puts on it will likely feel that they are merely observers, distanced and kept on the outside of the emotional wall that surrounds the film. Certainly, Pasolini is being exceedingly true to his vision, but it's one that is so keenly tied to his own specific psyche that it defies the close participation of others. Yet there is something undeniably intriguing about watching an artist of his stamp working in this particular manner; it doesn't sustain one's interest in the piece, but it does make it a unique experience. Part of the "problem" with Oedipus is that Pasolini stages it in a deliberately detached manner, discouraging the viewer from getting caught up in the inherent drama of the piece but simultaneously challenging him to look at the piece as archetype and ritual and to search for the truth that lies at its roots. It's a noble aim, but definitely not to everyone's taste. Many will also feel that the dual time periods -- modern at the beginning and end, primitively ancient in the middle -- are confusing, although the director clearly is making an attempt at a statement involving contemporary life. In the title role, Franco Citti is amateurish, but that is precisely the effect Pasolini is looking for. Much better are Silvana Mangano and, all too briefly, Alida Valli. The stark desert settings, the inventive costumes and the insightful cinematography all create a distinctive milieu, which even Oedipus' detractors are likely to appreciate.