7 September 2001 | enicholson
The shame and grace of a struggling mother and her son...
Mama Roma, played by an amazing Anna Magnani, desperately wants a good, respectable life for her 17 year old son, played by Ettore Garafalo. She would do anything for him. If at one time she sold her body on the streets of Rome partly as an act of rebellion against a failed marriage of convenience, she now must resume the work to raise funds to pay off a threatening former pimp (played by the cool, charismatic Franco Citti), while raising a few extra lira to get her son a few nice things on the side. She implores a priest to help her son find a decent job and does a host of other things to try and get Ettore away from the life of a hood.
The problem is that her son is like she presumably was (and is still capable of being) -- a rebellious, angry child drawn to the street life. He also, almost instinctively, falls for a young whore who may or may not resemble his young mother.
This is a great film. Pasolini cares deeply for these characters. Are Ettore and his mother a Madonna and Christ as sometime prostitute and would be criminal? Perhaps. Though their sins are not necessary for their survival, their hardships and sufferings take on a religious, martyred quality. Mamma Roma is the lost, heroic sinner of the Italian lower classes who can sometimes struggle to better themselves through respectable work, faith and redemption. But she can't do enough for herself and her son by being virtuous, so she must turn to the street on occasion. And either due to his environment or his temperament, both products of his mother, Ettore, in all his youthful impatience and vigor, can't resist the effortless ennui and easy thrills of hanging out with petty hoods, stealing from whoever they can, and dallying around with a young whore.
Rome looks and feels like a prison in this film. The city feels walled off by apartment buildings, the entrance into which feels like the entrance into an ancient city -- perhaps ancient Jerusalem. Outside the modern buildings stand patches of ancient ruins. Ettore lives his life among these overlooked, neglected ruins, which perhaps foreshadow his own future. If this is to be his future it won't be because of a lack of love and effort on the part of Mama Roma; instead it will be because of the neglect of the prison of Rome, and because of his own wild, bitter heart; the heart of a boy for which Mama Roma would devote her life.