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Benvenuto, S. (2016). Falling in Love with the Clouds: Notes on Pier Paolo Pasolini. DIVISION/Rev., 14:17-20.

(2016). DIVISION/Review, 14:17-20

On Film

Falling in Love with the Clouds: Notes on Pier Paolo Pasolini

Sergio Benvenuto

Grace returns; and in such a manner that it simultaneously appears most purely in that form of the human body that has either absolutely none or infinite consciousness; that is to say, either in the form of a manikin, or a god.

Heinrich Von Kleist

Aufsatz über das Marionettentheater (On the Marionette Theatre)

That was the virgin time

When clouds aren't numbers or signs

But beautiful sisters one watches travel…!

Eugenio Montale, End of Childhood

In 1967 Pier Paolo Pasolini made a short film, What Are Clouds?

The opening credits appear over the images of old fading movie posters that evoke masterpieces by Velazquez, such as Las Meninas. Set in a Sicilian village of the 1950s or '60s, this is the tale of two Sicilian marionettes (pupi). Ninetto Davoli is the puppet Othello and Totò is Iago, his face painted green for envy. They are taken to the Sicilian Puppet Theatre by a trash collector, played by singer Domenico Modugno who, like the Fate Clotho, makes them “come to life.”

We see the puppets perform—in a dramatic and at times naïve Southern Italian style (sceneggiata)—the crucial scenes from Shakespeare's Othello in an unadorned hall and before an unsophisticated audience. The puppets, however, benefit from—or, better, suffer for—the faculty of self-reflection: they are the characters they play but at the same time also comment on them between themselves.

Behind the scenes, Othello tells Iago-Totò: “I could never have imagined that you were so mean! You seemed like such a nice person!” Iago suggests he should then not trust appearances.

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