Director Pasolini traverses Italy in 1963 with camera and microphone interviewing people in public places about sex, marriage and gender roles.
“Where do babies come from? The stork brings them, they grow on a tree, they are sent by the Good Lord, by a faraway relative. But take a closer look at the faces of these kids: they do not even try to give the impression that they believe what they say. […] The stork is a way to make fun of the ‘grown-ups’, a way of paying them back in their own counterfeit money. It is the ironic, impatient sign that the questioning will go no further, that the adults are prying, that they shall not join the game, and that the child will keep the ‘real story’ for himself. That’s how Pasolini’s film begins. Enquête sur la sexualité (An Inquiry into Sexuality) is a very strange way of translating the Italian Comizi d’amore: a meeting, a convention or perhaps a forum on love. It is the age-old game of the ‘Symposium’, but outdoors, on the beaches and bridges, on street corners with children playing ball, young boys hanging around, bored girls in bathing suits, clusters of prostitutes on sidewalks, and workers after hours. […] These are street conversations about love. After all, the street is the most spontaneous form of Mediterranean conviviality. Pasolini, as if in passing, holds out his mic to a group of people strolling or basking in the sun; off-camera, he throws out a question about ‘love’, that vague area where sex, the couple, pleasure, the family, betrothal and its customs, prostitution and its rates, all intersect. Someone makes up his mind, answers with some hesitation, gets up his nerve again, speaks for the others; they draw nearer, give their approval or grumble, arms on shoulders, face against face. Laughter, tenderness, some feverishness passes quickly between those bodies huddled together, or touching each other. And they speak of themselves with a reserve and a distance inversely proportionate to the warmth and closeness of their contact. The ‘adults’ stand next to each other and make speeches, the ‘young’ talk briefly and take each other’s arms. Pasolini, the interviewer, fades out; Pasolini, the director, watches with both ears. This document cannot be appreciated if one is more interested in what is said than in the mystery that isn’t told.”
“Talking about homosexuality, a topic that has always been debated by Pasolini, the poet and writer Giuseppe Ungaretti comments: “Every man is made in a different way, in his physical structure I mean. But he is also made differently in his spiritual combination. Thus all men are in their way abnormal. All men are in some way at odds with nature […] The act of civilization, that is an act of human arrogance on nature, is an act against nature.” Inspired by Chronique d’un été (Chronicle of a Summer, 1960), a representative example of French cinéma-vérité, by filmmaker Jean Rouch and sociologist Edgar Morin, Pasolini’s Comizi d’Amore is less an inquiry on the sexual attitudes of 1960s Italians, than an investigation on whether or not is possible to act sincerely in front of a camera. In his preparatory notes, Pasolini wrote that he wanted to make a “therapeutic film”. His goal was to make people aware of the extent to which their points of view were hypocritical through viewing the film. However, the film was prohibited to minors – paradoxically forbidding many of its “actors” from seeing it – and had a very limited distribution, preventing it from achieving the goal at that time.”
“The central problem with the documentary is that whilst the working class interviewees are happy to express their views frankly, Pasolini finds it nearly impossible to penetrate the bourgeois veneer of respectability to get the middle classes to talk about the subject. As one responds when asked a characteristically blunt question by her impatient inquisitor: “You have to understand that in order to get answers to these questions, you would need to talk to your interviewees for a long time and waste a lot of film”.
When asked to explain why this is, a psychologist speculates that their reticence comes from both a fear of the self-awareness necessary to answer the questions honestly and a reluctance to risk negative social repercussions by saying something controversial or non-conformist. The result, as Pasolini himself acknowledges, is that there is a large black hole in the centre of his film. It ends up being, not a representation of Italian attitudes, but a representation only of the attitudes of those prepared to answer his questions. Although it is possible to guess at why others refuse to discuss such subjects, it’s impossible to know what they really think about them.
Confronted with this awkward fact, Pasolini attempts to spuriously link his findings to a Marxist critique of Capitalism by summarising: “People talk [about these subjects] with disarming superficiality or hopeless confusion… all this in a country blessed by an economic miracle… naively hoping to find signs of a simultaneous cultural and spiritual miracle. The spirit of a materially wealthy Italy is refuted by real Italians.””
- 1Michel Foucault, Les Matins gris de la tolérance, “Le Monde”, 23 March 1977; tr. Eng by Danielle Kormos, “Stanford Italian Review”, vol. II, n. 2, Autumn 1982.
- 2Francesco Spampinato, “Comizi di Non Amore: Francesco Vezzoli Revisits Pasolini through Reality TV”, Senses of Cinema, December 2015.
- 3Themroc, “Love Meetings”, Eye for Film, March 2007.