DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Mamma Roma - The Criterion Collection (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Jun 9, 2004.

  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

    May 7, 2001
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    Mamma Roma
    The Criterion Collection

    Studio: Criterion Collection
    Year: 1962
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 110 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: Italian
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $39.95
    Package: 2 disc set in a double keep case.

    The Feature:
    During the month of June, Criterion will release another group of diverse titles ranging from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa to the controversial Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini. On June 8th, Criterion will release Luchino Visconti's, The Leopard and on June 22nd, Jean-Luc Godard's, A Woman Is A Woman (1961), Lower Depths which include both, the Jean Renoir (1936) and Akira Kurosawa (1957) versions. Finally, on the same date they will release the feature film, Pasolini's, Mamma Roma (1962).

    Mamma Roma (played by Anna Magnani) is a rather bleak story of a middle-aged prostitute who has come to terms with her life, unhappy with the decisions of her past. As the film begins, Mamma has been estranged from her sixteen year old son, Ettore (played by Ettore Garofolo) for much of his life missing out on many of the golden moments from the boy’s childhood. Plagued by guilt for not having been there for him, and perhaps a sense of remorse for the direction her life took her, she wants to compensate for her neglect, however lacks the qualities necessary to be a good mother.

    Ettore is a goodhearted boy, but craves the love and attention he has obviously lacked throughout his childhood. Although he loves his mother, he is withdrawn and treats his mother with guarded skepticism. Mamma has grandiose ideas amounting to illusions of grandeur, wanting nothing but the best for herself and Ettore, but unfortunately she lacks the education and skills necessary to further their placement on the social status pole. At one point, she even resorts to extortion with a local restaurateur in an attempt to get a job for young Ettore, but the boy lacks the initiative and is unable to hold onto his new job. No doubt much of his lack of enthusiasm stems from the feelings of resentment he harbors toward his mother.

    Things become complicated when Ettore suddenly becomes infatuated with a manipulative young woman, Bruna (played by Silvana Corsini), who’s no stranger to the neighborhood boys – interestingly, someone who resembles and possesses many of the same qualities as his mother (symbolically important, given Pasolini’s love for his own mother). But Ettore is reaching out in an attempt to find love, something he has never been blessed with in his young life. Unfortunately, he resorts to theft in an attempt to bring Bruna gifts and trinkets in return for the companionship and love he yearns for. Ultimately, his actions and his new circle of friends virtually ensure his destiny which is every bit as hopeless as the life his mother wants so desperately to escape.

    Despite Mamma’s profession, her disenfranchised character is one that is likeable. Regardless of her inability to pull herself out from the sordid streets of Rome, she still possesses a likeable quality who we want to see succeed, even though we know the inevitability of reality. Pasolini does a superb job at keeping the mood of the film austere, from the destitution and depravity of the characters to the ruin-like surroundings of their new home – in an “institution like” setting. The director also does a wonderful job at employing a few unique techniques, which lend in keeping the film interesting, techniques that were certainly ahead of their time. One of the more interesting shots occurs when Mamma walks down the streets of Rome at night, as the camera moves backwards on a dolly. Mamma walks toward the camera continually while various people approach her and talk to her, then, moments later a different person falls into step - almost precision like. Other interesting techniques include a method of Mamma staring just above the camera during her on screen performances. You’ll also see a couple interesting uses of slow motion, something not very common in a 1962 film.

    The Feature: 4/5

    Absolutely beautiful. Shown in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this transfer has a lot going for it.

    First off, the blacks were incredibly deep, while whites couldn’t be any cleaner – exceptionally stark. As a result, we’re left with a grayscale that was most impressive. Shadow detail was equally impressive.

    There was a very pleasing amount of image detail that was for the most part, very sharp with only occasional softness. There were a couple of scenes (a few frames here and there) that appeared to be almost discolored and looked very dupey – incredibly soft and unfocused. I’m assuming these were inserted during the restoration due to problem-some elements. Fortunately, these scenes don’t last long but they are very noticeable.

    There is only a hint of fine grain noticeable throughout the entire film resulting in a very impressive 3D film-like image. I must comment on the beautiful velvety smooth image of this transfer, which was most satisfying.

    There are only occasional instances of dust and dirt and a couple of scratches evident here and there, but this has been cleaned up quite nicely. I was unable to detect any signs of compression errors or artifacting etc.

    This is a stunning transfer, which comes close to achieving a perfect score!

    Video: 4.5/5

    The original soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital monaural and is delivered effectively.

    There is a slight hiss that is present throughout the entire film which is barely noticeable. There were never any problems with popping or crackling etc.

    The overall tonality of the track I would describe as slightly warm, never sounding compressed. The overall level of dialogue clarity was exceptionally clear and bold and always intelligible. Must of the film is accompanied with classical music which was subtle and never became invasive. Most of the film is dialogue driven, so there really isn’t much to speak of in terms of dynamics.

    This track does an admirable job of doing what needs to be done in an almost flawless manner.

    Audio: 4/5

    Special Features:
    Disc one of the set contains the feature film as well as;
    [*] A Poster Gallery which includes a number of posters for the feature film as well as posters for his next project, La Ricotta.
    [*] The only other feature on disc one is the Theatrical Trailer which is in reasonably good condition. Duration: 3:59 minutes.

    Disc two starts off with a cluster of;
    [*] Interviews starting with director Bernardo Bertolucci who began as a production assistant to Pier Paolo Pasolini working with him on his first film, Accattone (1961). Next up is an interview with Tonino Delli Colli who worked as a director of photography on eleven of fourteen films for Pasolini starting with his first, Accattone and concluding with his final film, Salò (1975). The final interview features Enzo Siciliano who authored Pasolini (1982), a biography. All of the interviews were conducted in Italy during the fall of 2003 and all contain a substantial amount of information pertaining to Pasolini and the feature film. Duration: 24:04 minutes.
    [*] The next feature, Pier Paolo Pasolini is a 1995 documentary by filmmaker Ivo Barnabò Micheli shot on the 20th anniversary of Pasolini’s murder which extensively covers the ideas and philosophical thoughts of the controversial director. Duration: 58:00 minutes.
    [*] The final feature on the disc is the individual segment, La Ricotta - from Ro.Go.Pa.G. (1963) which was a compendium comprised of four shorts, directed by Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti. The short features Orson Wells as the director who makes a film about The Passion Of Jesus. The feature, which is in B&W and color, is in pretty good condition. Duration: 34:31 minutes.
    [*] And finally a 32 page Insert has been included which is comprised of a Chapter List, Cast & Crew credits, an essay on the film by Gary Indiana who authored many books including the BFI publication, “Salò or The Hundred And Twenty Days of Sodom”. There are also excerpts from an interview that was conducted with Oswald Stack from his published book “Pasolini on Pasolini” from 1969. There is a similarly formatted interview pertaining to Pasolini’s film, La Ricotta. And lastly a section entitled La Ricotta, these excerpts were taken from Enzo Siciliano’s biography, Pasolini. A great read which contains some very interesting information relating to the film and the director.

    Special Features: 4/5

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**

    Final Thoughts:
    Mamma Roma is by no means a feel good film, and despite the choices that are made by the mother and her son, we can only hope they are able to take that turn at the fork in the road, but realistically, we know the probability isn’t likely. Unfortunately, the film reinforces the cyclical social problems that inevitably become generational. Known for films that mainly deal with societal issues and figures that are controversial, socially depraved and downright depressing, Pasolini captures the mood perfectly with this sordid, but passionate story of Mamma Roma.

    This is a gorgeous transfer that is sure to please fans of Pasolini and the film. Once again, Criterion has also added a number of special features to complement this film which should leave fans of the film more than satisfied.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)


    Release Date: June 22nd, 2004
  2. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

    May 19, 2002
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    Thanks for the review Herb—well done. For sure Pasolini was a controversial person who made interesting and challenging films. This is one of his I’ve not seen and I’m looking forward to it.
  3. Planet_jake

    Planet_jake Extra

    Feb 20, 2004
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    Long, long time Pasolini fan, will be picking this baby up post haste! Great review, Herb!!! [​IMG]

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