• Hawks And Sparrows/Pigsty



    Released by: Eureka/Masters of Cinema
    Released on: February 22, 2016
    Directed by: Pier Paolo Pasolini
    Cast: Totò, Ninetto Davoli, Femi Benussi, Umberto Bevilacqua, Renato Capogna, Flaminia Siciliano, Pietro Davoli, Rosina Moroni, Lena Lin Solaro, Gabriele Baldini/Pierre Clémenti, Franco Citti, Ugo Tognazzi, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Alberto Lionello, Anne Wiazemsky, Margarita Lozano, Ninetto Davoli, Marco Ferreri
    Year: 1966/1969

    The Movies:

    Hawks and Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini): Toto (Toto) and his son, Ninetto (Ninetto Davoli), go for a walk in their rural neighborhood and inadvertently witness the removal of a murder victim from a local home. Afterwards, they meet a talking crow who tells them the story of two Franciscan monks. These monks, the tale goes, are assigned the task of preaching to the hawks and the sparrows. They hope to get the hawks to stop eating the sparrows, but although both species acknowledge the importance of love, the attacks continue. Why? Because it’s in the hawks’ nature to eat the sparrows.

    After the crow finishes its tale, it tags along as Toto and Ninetto continue their walk. The trio meets an assortment of bizarre characters – rich, poor, successful, and outcast. Things come full circle when Toto, who had earlier demanded a poor family of renters pay their rent to him, is pressured to pay a debt of his own. As things wrap up, Toto and Ninetto kill and eat the crow.

    One of the smarter entries in the Toto series, Hawks and Sparrows touches upon themes common to director Pier Paolo Pasolini's work. Pasolini was a homosexual, atheist, and committed leftist whose films frequently examined the poverty of the poor, the excesses of the wealthy, and the symbiosis between the two. His work makes frequent use of dyadic pairs, deconstructing interaction between social classes by casting it as lengthy conversation between two individuals. He also had a penchant for representing said interaction in terms of cannibalism, something he does here by having the comparatively well-off father and son devour the humanized crow.

    Pigsty (Porcile): Here, the viewer is presented with two interwoven stories. In the first, a hungry young man (Pierre Clémenti) wanders a landscape of ashen rock and volcanoes. After feasting on a snake, he spies a group of marching soldiers. One lags behind the rest, and this one he chases down and kills. He cuts off his victim's head, throws it into a volcanic vent, strips the body, and carries it back to a small camp where he and a fellow wanderer cook and eat the corpse's flesh. Not long after, the two men come upon a band of traveling religious folk, some of whom they murder, some of whom they rape, and some of whom they take as hostages. Over time, the group coalesces into a band of outlaws. At a later point, the young leader spots a naked man and woman standing in the distance. He and his followers apprehend them, only to find that they were planted by the army whose soldier he had earlier eaten. He and his band are taken into captivity and judged for their crimes. As punishment, they are staked to the ground and feasted upon by wild dogs.

    In the second story, Julian Klotz (Jean-Pierre Léaud) and his fiancée, Ida (Anne Wiazemsky), are at odds over politics. She's obsessed by it, but Julian has little interest in the subject, preferring instead to spend his time elsewhere. Julian tells Ida that he’s in love with someone else, but before he can say who, he falls into a coma. His father (Alberto Lionello), who sports a Hitler mustache to show his Nazi leanings, is concerned: his son’s lack of political substance threatens his self-made empire. Julian does come out of his coma, however, only to learn that his fiancée has moved on. Prepared to spend his life with his true love, he is instead eaten under mysterious circumstances.

    As simple and straightforward as these plot descriptions may sound, the film is anything but. The context of the first story is never made clear, and while one is tempted to believe that it takes place in the distant past, Pasolini's placement of anachronisms leave room for doubt on this score. The story was shot near Italy’s Mt. Etna (a volcano larger though less famous than Mt. Vesuvius). The area is a complex of small, active craters, one of which constantly releases a plume of black ash. It’s a striking, minimalist setting that reflects the story's unflinchingly morose goings-on. This is a world where one—literally--either eats or is eaten, and as it concludes, its antihero announces, “I killed my father. I ate human flesh. And I quiver with joy.” Repeatedly.

    Pasolini takes a different approach in the second story, offering his dyadic pairs as representations of both opposition (father/son; Christian/Jew; liberal/conservative; master/servant) and collusion (mother/father; industrialist/investor). These pairs are clearly presented, with no position being presented as sympathetic. The parents are greedy, the girlfriend is clueless (despite her fascination with politics), and Julian is too self-absorbed to care much about his immediate surroundings, much less the world. In the end, his isolation gets him killed in the worst way possible: he becomes food for those more involved in their world than he is in his.

    Pasolini is obsessed with the notion of cannibalism and feeding. In that respect, the two stories complement each other: both cater to the notion that it’s a dog-eat-dog (or dog-eat-man; or man-eat-animal; or man-eat-man) world. The greatest truth of life and evolution is that to survive, one must feed on the living, and greed for worldly riches is nothing more than a magnification of greed for food, of taking more than one needs despite the fact that it will deprive others, sometimes even rob them of their very existence.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Eureka brings Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty to Blu-ray with AVC encodes in 1080p high definition. Both films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios (1.85:1). Hawks and Sparrows is the better-looking of the two, thanks to a stellar transfer that makes the most of the crisp black and white photography. After the opening credits, the image opens up to great detail, revealing every minor rock and weed in the surrounding Roman countryside. Black levels are solid, with no real crush or prevalent grain. There’s some minor dirt and debris, but overall the image has been cleaned up considerably, making this the best the film has ever looked in any format. (Eureka also deserves kudos for bringing the film to the Blu-ray format.) Pigsty likewise looks strong, though perhaps slightly less so than Hawks and Sparrows. There’s a minor layer of grain that appears completely organic, and colors are generally strong (what little color there is; Pasolini clearly shot the film in such a way as to give it a stark, uncompromising look). There’s no real issue with speckling, and, despite the fact that two films are placed on a single disc, there’s no compression. Both films are relatively short (one a little over 90 minutes, one a little under), and with only one extra each, the 50GB disc is more than capable of handling the information.

    Both films feature Italian LPCM 2.0 sound. But don’t let that two-channel track fool you; the films are actually monaural, with the same sound coming out of each speaker. As such, one would expect a relatively ineffective listening experience. That does not prove the case, however. The scores are relatively robust, particularly Ennio Morricone’s memorable score for Hawks and Sparrows, with dialogue unencumbered by interference. Because the films retain their original Italian tracks, optional English subtitles are included. These automatically play unless the viewer chooses the option not to play them.

    Extras are sparse. Each film is accompanied by an original theatrical trailer.

    The release is limited to 1,500 units.

    The Final Word:

    Hawks and Sparrows and Pigsty make for a fitting combo, despite the fact that one is a political comedy, the other a little more difficult to pigeonhole. Both deal with similar themes and offer a condemnation of the elite devouring the lower classes, though in symbolic terms. Of the two, Hawks and Sparrows is the most successful, as it utilized a popular actor for its lead and dealt with its themes in an intelligent and easily digestible form. Though made only three years later, Pigsty takes a considerably different approach, one more in keeping with the experimental cinema of Italy and Spain at the time. Both films look and sound quite good on Blu-ray, and Eureka should be commended for offering them as part of their Masters of Cinema line.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!