Ro.Go.Pa.G., also titled Let’s Wash Our Brains, is a cinematic anthology consisting of four short movies, directed and titled according to the Italian writer/directors’ names: ROssellini, GOdard, PAsolini and Gregoretti (well, Godard, through no fault of his own, is French). The first segment, by Rossellini, is called “Virginity”, and is a study in applied Freudianism. An American salesman on an Alitalia Airlines flight becomes infatuated with the attractive stewardess Annamaria, and won’t leave her alone in the days afterwards (they’re styaing at the same hotel). Annamaria and her long-distance fiancee are exchanging video postcards and trying to figure out what to do about the obnoxious American. The fiancee’s smug psychologist friend analyses the salesman (in absentia!), concluding that he’s suffering from the Oedipus complex, and is attracted Annamaria because of her maternal qualities. The solution is simple: Annamaria only has to change into a bottle-blond and bejewelled glamour girl, and then the salesman will no longer be obsessed with her. In a longer movie, you might expect that things were not as simple as this, but this is a half-hour thing; it only really has time to confirm its own premise in a rather self-satisfied way that seems to accept Freudianism entirely uncritically (but then; it was very much in vogue back then). The performances are good, though, and the best thing about it is the endlessly repeated theme from Bellini’s opera Norma that is played in different instruments throughout the movie, effectively underscoring the lighthearted nature of this tiny tale.
The second segment is “The New World” by Godard. It is the strange story of how a nuclear detonation 120 kilometers above Paris slowly makes everybody except the protagonist behave illogically. At just over 20 minutes the story takes its sweet time getting going, and nothing much happens beyond a few odd choices of words. The only aspect of this awfully low-key attempt at science fiction worth raving about is the great looks of Alexandra Stewart, who plays the protagonist’s slightly mysteriously behaving girlfriend. Beyond that, this is an experience where, to put it mildly, a few yawns creep in; never an auspicious omen for such a short movie.
The third segment, by Pasolini and lasting 35 min., is called “La Ricotta”. It is a strange and hilarious union between Christianity and Marxism; a contradictory but co-existing dichotomy that the Italians have lived with for a long time. Here, Orson Welles (!) essentially plays a version of Pasolini; a Catholic/Marxist film director dedicated to merging and reconciling the two big ideas. In a rural area, a film crew is recording some artsy movie about Christ’s time on the cross (“the Passion”, I believe is the proper term), and we focus on a lowly actor, Stracci, who plays “the good thief”, crucified next to Jesus. During the breaks, Stracci never succeeds in getting anything to eat, always being cheated and exploited by the stars of the show; the elite. He is the exploited worker who toils in obscurity, kind-hearted, hard-working and helpful but ignored and unappreciated. His effort so secure food through various tricks (such as selling the diva’s dog) are shown in comical speed-motion, and his final fate makes him the modern world’s new martyr; a Marxist Jesus having undergone a Marxist Passion. Actually quite brilliant.
The fourth segment, also 35 min. long, is “Free-Range Chicken” by Gregoretti. It’s another highly socially conscious political tract about how the booming consumer culture is turning people into auto-response “battery chickens” rather than free-willed free-range chickens by making them think of nothing but consumer products and advertising slogans, constantly worried about not having enough money to buy all the things that consumer society forces them to want. The point is driven home by alternating between the consumer travails of a typical, fairly well-off nuclear family and an explanatory lecture by a professor of economics. Though a bit predictable, this segment is both effective and humorous, and if you agree with its obvious and analytical left-wing perspective, you won’t mind the preaching.
The two last segments especially are a couple of short gems which deftly manage to engage and entertain the viewer while getting their messages across. The Godard segment is the least successful of the four.
This anthology is part of the “Masters of Cinema” series, and is released on a dual format blu-ray + dvd edition on August 27. The film is restored to its original 1080p aspect ration and has newly translated English subtitles. The screener reviewed here is the Blu-ray only, which contains no additional material, but the proper release also includes a 56-page booklet featuring essays on the shorts, and archival imagery.
Director: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti.
Cast: Rosanna Schiaffino, Alexandra Stewart, Jean Marc Bory, Orson Welles, Mario Cipriani, Ugo Tognazzi and others.
Runtime: 123 min.