The Grim Reaper

  • Italy La commare secca


The brutalized corpse of a Roman prostitute is found along the banks of the Tiber. The police round up and interrogate a handful of possible suspects. In this, his stunning debut feature based on a story by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci utilizes a series of interconnected flashbacks to explore the nature of truth and the reliability of narrative. (official distributor synopsis)


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English Bertolucci's debut bears clear influences from Pasolini's work - after all, Bertolucci was an assistant director on Pasolini's Accattone (1961), and Pasolini also provided the source material for The Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper therefore necessarily carries Pasolini’s distinctive interest in the characters of Roman outsiders, lumpenproletarians, youths, and poseurs. It is precisely these types of people who become the main protagonists and about whom the film primarily speaks - the subtly portrayed criminal background serves no purpose other than allowing us, as the focal point of the plot, to get to know several such human types and take a glimpse into their typically spent night (culminating in an atypical event). Although the individual fragments describing the specific tales of the protagonists are unified and related to the moment of the nocturnal murder, it is not, unlike works like Rashomon, primarily about reconstructing the truth of the event from various perspectives (the plot hardly attempts this at all), but rather "only" about exploring the lives of the Roman golden youth of the street through testimonies given to the police. In his debut, Bertolucci already adopted a magnificent camera, similar to that of the then-emerging Elio Petri, and it is precisely in the sequences where the focus is primarily on the use of camera and music - and not words - that the film is at its best. ()

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