One of the iconoclastic Pier Paolo Pasolini’s most radical provocations, Teorema finds the auteur moving beyond the poetic, proletarian earthiness that first won him renown and notoriety with a coolly cryptic exploration of bourgeois spiritual emptiness. Terence Stamp stars as the mysterious stranger—perhaps an angel, perhaps a devil—who, one by one, seduces the members of a wealthy Milanese family (including European cinema icons Silvana Mangano, Massimo Girotti, Laura Betti, and Anne Wiazemsky), precipitating an existential crisis in each of their lives. Unfolding nearly wordlessly in a procession of sacred and profane images, this tantalizing metaphysical riddle—blocked from exhibition by the Catholic Church for degeneracy—is at once a blistering Marxist treatise on sex, religion, and art and a primal scream into the void.
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema gets a sharp looking Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the film, scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Seeing as this was an Italian film I was immediately expecting a heavily yellow-tinted mess but I’m happy to say that is not the case. The image does lean warmer for sure, and some blues can lean more towards a cyan, but it’s not heavy, some blues still look “blue,” whites look pretty good, and black levels are deep and clean and shadow detail is still rather good. The colour scheme doesn’t offer much of a variety (it’s pretty mild, mostly beigey with some colder blues thrown in at times), but they are rendered well.
Still, the nicest aspect to the presentation is just how clean, sharp, and highly detailed it is. Finer textures, even in long shots, look great, while film grain is rendered cleanly and naturally, though the opening credits look a bit off, presenting a pattern I would call “splotchy” (this could be just how the elements are). Restoration-wise this looks pretty amazing, though a few minor blemishes pop up here and there, but nothing significant. All-in-all it’s a wonderful looking, film-like image.
Criterion includes two audio tracks: the “original” (post-production dubbed) Italian, presented in lossless PCM 1.0 mono, and an alternate English track, only delivered in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. Of the two the Italian track is the cleaner, better sounding one. The dubbing is obvious but there is still a decent level of fidelity to the spoke dialogue. Music sounds okay, as do background effects.
Where the Italian track is pretty clean and has decent depth, the English track wears its age. Apparently English was spoken primarily during the production, so I assume most of this is the original spoken dialogue but it’s hard to say: some lip movements match perfectly with what is spoken, others don’t even come close (Pasolini also changed dialogue in post-production since he was going to dub anyways, so I assume that was carried over to this English version as well). At any rate, the track is a bit more edgy in comparison to the Italian track, and fidelity is severely lacking. Music can be especially harsh as well. What I was surprised by particularly were the background effect, which could be louder and more obvious (even different) in comparison to what was on the Italian track. But the track is otherwise pretty clean: I didn’t notice any severe problems.
In the end, the Italian track is the better sounding one, but it will come down to preference.
Criterion adds a new “introduction” by Pasolini, which is simply a 3-minute excerpt from a television interview with the director, where he is asked to explain the film. Somewhat surprisingly he’s not that cryptic about it. Criterion also nicely enough ports over the two big features found on BFI’s UK region locked DVD and Blu-ray editions for the film: an audio commentary featuring scholar Robert Gordon, and a 2007 interview with actor Terrance Stamp.
The commentary is about as Academic and dry as you might fear but I have to admit it helped in working through this film. I think I’m clicking more with Pasolini’s films as I work through them (the first of his I saw was Salo, which may not have been a great place to start!), but even though I kind of “got” some of his targets in this satire, I admit I was still a bit perplexed at what he was trying to say exactly. Gordon’s commentary does help sort this out, and though he does fall in to the trap of just reiterating what is going on onscreen at times, it is simply to explain the visual language of the film and how Pasolini is presenting his “theorem” of what happens when Stamp’s stranger (X) is inserted into this predictable bourgeois family before being promptly removed. Gordon also talks about the director’s other work and the background of the actors that appear throughout. Again, it can be incredibly dry at times (I find the film funny, at least in its basic premise, and the track can suck that out), and I feel he’s reading a script, but I still appreciated the track and I’m glad Criterion was able to license it for this release.
Stamp’s 34-minute interview is also a great addition. Stamp is down-to-earth and very open, and the interview has a surprisingly personal edge to it. He explains how he came to be involved with the film, admitting he was going through a rough time after a bad break-up. He was offered a role in Fellini’s Toby Dammit segment of the omnibus film Spirits of the Dead (after Peter O’Toole apparently dropped out rather nastily) and he took it, not exactly sure what he was getting into, and he explains how this helped him work through some of his hang-ups with film acting. He then explains how this led to Teorema, after running into Silvana Mangano on the street (who he confesses he had an insane crush on for forever) who said he would be perfect for “Pier’s film.” Here Stamp then talks about the experience and how he got screwed out of money for the film (he claims he has not received one penny), and then the surprise of his career taking off afterwards (like getting the Superman offer). It’s a wonderful interview, with Stamp being very open about the time and how it built him up. Again, I’m so happy Criterion has carried this over.
Criterion also includes a new 17-minute interview with John David Rhodes, who offers his own summation of the film and what Pasolini is trying to say with it. He also gets into some of the controversies around the film at the time of its release, though does also feel the unfortunate need to justify some of Pasolini's choices that might be questionable to modern audiences. I think the commentary is the better of the two, but if you start the commentary and just don’t think you can sit through it, Rhodes’ contribution is a perfectly fine substitute. James Quandt’s essay found in the included insert also offers an excellent analysis of the film and how it fits into Pasolini’s work.
Koch Lorber released their own DVD in North America back in 2005, and only included a documentary on Pasolini called Pasolini and Death: A Purely Intellectual Thriller. I haven’t seen it but judging by online reviews (and even a surprise IMDB score) it’s not terribly good so it’s probably not missed here. Still, Criterion’s edition, even if most of the material isn’t new, covers most of its bases thoroughly.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray offers a wonderful presentation and a solid set of supplements to help make one’s way through Pasolini’s film. Highly recommended.