La Rabbia DVD Review: A Politically-Charged Italian Oddity

Differing opinions don’t get much more diametrically opposite than those put forth in La Rabbia or The Anger, a two-part polemic helmed by legendary filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and journalist Giovannino Guareschi. Pasolini and Guareschi — well, let’s just say they don’t agree on much, offering up vastly divergent diagnoses for the world’s ills in their respective segments, each of which run a little over 50 minutes.

Comprised entirely of documentary and newsreel footage, accompanied by a stream of running commentary written by the filmmakers, La Rabbia features imagery of the tumultuous 1950s and early 1960s, complete with military oppression, popular uprisings and the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

The leftist Pasolini sees some hope for the future in the way a number of African nations like Algeria have thrown off the constraints of European colonialism, although he’s equally pessimistic about the prospect of nuclear war and the capitalistic ideals that underpin it. From the conservative perspective, Guareschi is almost entirely pessimistic, bemoaning the moral decay of Europe and the fading of white supremacy around the world.

It’s hardly surprising that there’s a vast ideological divide between the two, but it’s fascinating to see the different approaches each took to crafting his segment. One might think there’s only so much you can do with pre-existing footage, but Pasolini and Guareschi achieve tones as dissonant as their belief systems. While Pasolini’s is measured, intellectual and poetic, Guareschi’s is shrill, sensational and grotesque. In a particularly disturbing sequence, Guareschi scores footage of an African celebration with absurdly incongruous music meant to reinforce the stereotype of the uncivilized black savage.

What emerges is not so much a back-and-forth dialogue — Guareschi is far too glibly racist to be considered a legitimate intellectual analog here — as it is a crude existential mash-up. Whether or not the whole project even makes much sense, it does make for some fascinating viewing — cable news personalities should pay special attention to Guareschi’s segment to a learn or thing or two about faux moral outrage and superiority.

Raro Video has put together an extremely impressive package for this oddity, including a feature-length documentary about the making of the film and its strange genesis and botched release. The disc also features a Pasolini short film, Le Mura di Sana’a, which looks at the destruction of Yemen’s capital city, and four different theatrical trailers.

The package also includes a booklet with director introductions, biographies, critical essays, interviews and excerpts from contemporary newspaper articles.

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Dusty Somers

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