Medea (Pier Paolo Pasolini / Italy-France-West Germany, 1969):

The centaur’s sermon, with its mythological semantics ("Everything is holy, but holiness is also a malediction") and 7th Voyage of Sinbad illusionism, states the style. How does one film Euripides? Turkey and Syria stand for Greece, with telling contributions from Pisa and Cinecittà -- mountains like titanic anthills, caves like Byzantine cathedrals, intense natural lighting bathing all in resplendent orange. A loinclothed youth is led smiling to the sacrificial rack, the villagers scoop up his blood in bowls and fertilize the earth. It might be a pagan idyll, or a spaghetti Western. "All apparitions." Jason (Giuseppe Gentile) is a beefcakey athlete and Medea (Maria Callas) is a bejeweled sorceress out of Piero, they meet on the journey for the Golden Fleece, a tattered rag hurled at the usurper’s feet. Antiquity and modernity are the gladiators in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s sun-blasted arena, though the chief contrast is between the absolute realism of the terrain and the heightened tremors of his visiting-alien leading lady. Dubbing strips Callas of her voice, but her physical grandeur still towers: Mane sweeping and eyes flashing from beneath a tangled mass of earrings, medallions and necklaces, she gives Pasolini visual aria after visual aria. Elsewhere in Corinth, Glauce (Margareth Clémenti) and King Creon (Massimo Girotti) are patently a puzzled nonprofessional and a graying matinee idol, catnip to a banished witch. "The victory over my enemies will be splendid!" Pasolini’s tableaux are abstruse, stark, elemental; characters die, are revived and die again as the tale breaks down into jagged, malleable narrative blocks, the Balkan-African-Iranian-Tibetan score is a raging creature worthy of Paradjanov. The diva saves the fiery finale for herself, the filmmaker watches enraptured from below, suspended like his characters between the intellectual and the primitive. Cinematography by Ennio Guarnieri. With Laurent Terzieff, Paul Jabara, Gerard Weiss, and Sergio Tramonti.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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