Mamma Roma (1962)


An aging prostitute, nick-named ‘Mama Roma’ (Anna Magnani, The Rose Tattoo), decides to call it quits. She buys a fruit stand and moves to a respectable neighborhood with her estranged teenage son (Ettore Garofolo, Bawdy Tales). ‘Mama’ hopes to start a new life for her son’s sake, but the kid’s ungratefulness threatens to crush the ex-prostitute’s dreams of a better life.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Mildred Pierce, Italian style. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma is like an old Hollywood melodrama done in the style of Italo-realism.

Controversial Italian filmmaker Pasolini (Teorema and Salo) is an acquired taste. I’ve seen half a dozen of his films and I’ve decided that he is not for me. Pasolini is regarded as one of the key filmmakers of Italian cinema, but I just don’t get him. Mamma Roma is only his second movie and it is by far my favorite movie of his.

He had not developed a style at this point in his career, so Pasolini is simply trying to tell a good story. On the basis of this film alone, you can see that he is indeed a good storyteller, and part of me wishes he had made more films Mamma Roma. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on the viewer), Pasolini began experimenting thus losing some of the clarity of his early efforts.

In Mamma Roma, Pasolini captures the essence of the human spirit, revealing sincerely and poetically important aspects of humanity. The relationship between mother and son transcends time and place. It has a sort of universality that is very appealing, and yes, quite powerful.

Magnani is a monument of talent. The more I see of her the more impressed I am with her range. She’s a hurricane of pathos. For me, at least, she is the Italian Bette Davis. Magnani and Davis liked to work on all cylinders and I find that kind of unrestrained nuclear force hard to resist. This is one of Magnani’s best roles — if you are not familiar with her work this is a good starting point.

Magnani takes an overused movie trope — the-hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold — and turns it into a raw symbol of not only motherhood, but also of Italy itself. She’s part Mother Courage, part Mommie Dearest — it’s an extraordinary performance that will stay with you long after the fade out.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Mamma Roma is a fabulous, unforgettable piece of cinema. It was beautifully shot on real locations. The locales support the film’s main themes in clever ways. The film also works at various levels. And Magnani is hypnotic — I love her gorgeous eye bags —  and reason alone to sit through this poignant, intelligent movie. Highly recommended! B&W, 110 minutes, Not rated.

4 responses to “Mamma Roma (1962)

  1. I’m putting this one on my “To-Watch” list. The whole idea of giving up a life of prostitution, only to have your son resent it (I’m guessing because the lower income and resulting change in lifestyle?) is compelling. And anyone compared to Bette Davis has to be worth watching!!

    Liked by 1 person

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