|Pier Paolo Pasolini
|Pier Paolo Pasolini
|Medea by Euripides
|Pier Paolo Pasolini
Medea is a 1969 Italian film directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, based on the ancient myth of Medea. The film stars opera singer Maria Callas in her only film role and is largely a faithful portrayal of the myth of Jason and the Argonauts and the events of Euripides' play The Medea.
The film was received positively by critics but did not receive commercial success. According to film commentator Tony Rayns the film represents a committedly adversarial piece of art from the director who loved to challenge society. Rayns calls the film "a love song to Maria Callas" and describes the ending as "backing him (Pasolini) into a cul-de-sac" for the dark ending of the film which almost seems like a resignation from cultural production. Indeed, Pasolini's dramatic and adverse personality is very much alive in this film which depicts Medea's murder of her husband, children and her husband's lover.
In the city of Iolcus in Greece, King Aeson is removed from power by his half-brother Pelias who becomes a cruel tyrant mad with power. Jason, Aeson's son, is sent to the centaur Chiron to be hidden away where Pelias cannot get him. Chiron teaches Jason about the world and tells him about the voyage he will one day take to Colchis, where the Golden Fleece of Ares is kept. Colchis is home to many bizarre rituals, like human sacrifice, which are presided over by Queen Medea. Jason grows up, travels to Iolcus, and challenges Pelias to the throne. Pelias says he can have the kingdom if he retrieves the Golden Fleece from Colchis on the other side of the world. Jason assents. Meanwhile, Medea has a vision of Jason and is so enraptured with him that she asks her brother Absyrtus to help steal the fleece in preparation for his arrival.
They travel far into the wilderness, where they eventually join the Argonauts who have been marching to Colchis. The King and the Colchians realize that the fleece has been stolen from under them. They pursue Medea and intend to retrieve the fleece. Medea realizes that the Colchians are chasing them, and so she kills her brother and dismembers his body so that they are forced to stop and collect his remains. This delay allows Jason and Medea to escape. Once she arrives in Greece, Medea has a spiritual crisis after realizing how completely alien Greek practices are to her.
When they return to Iolcus, they deliver the fleece to Pelias, who reneges on his promise. Deciding the fleece has little power, Jason accepts this decision. Medea assumes the clothing and duties of a tradition Greek wife, but Jason soon tires of her. He travels to Corinth, where he sees a vision of two Chirons; one is in the form of a centaur, while the other is completely human. The centaur remains silent while the human Chiron tells him that Medea is torn between her past ritualistic self, the self that performed the human rituals in Colchis, and the new less spiritual Greek self. Though Medea bears him two sons, Jason grows more and more distant from her. He decides to pursue a political marriage to a Corinthian princess, Glauce. Glauce's father, Creon, is afraid of Medea's wrath and magic and banishes her.
The enraged Medea plots revenge against Jason and his new bride. She pretends to be happy and accepting of their marriage and claims that her only wish is that the King does not banish her children with Jason. Jason accepts and goes to Creon to ask that of him. Medea plans to send Glauce a robe bewitched with magic herbs that will poison her and cause Creon to burst into flames. But before this can happen, Glauce sees a reflection of Medea in her mirror and, overcome with guilt and empathy, throws herself from the city walls. Seeing her corpse below, Creon jumps to his death as well.
Completing her revenge, Medea kills her sons and sets fire to their house. Held back by the fire, Jason pleads with Medea to give the children a proper burial. She refuses from the midst of the flames: "It is useless! Nothing is possible anymore!"
The film does not use the dialogue written by Euripides but the plot does closely follow the structure of his play. The beginning portions of the film also follow the early life of Jason and his voyage to Colchis where he meets Medea.
Piero Tosi explains in the supplements to the Criterion Collection's release of the film that there are three basic color schemes for the costumes
For the score, Pasolini chose music from various Eastern cultures because prehistoric music was not re-creatable. According to musicologist Jon Solomon from The Sound of Cinematic Antiquity: "For the rituals in Colchis he (Pasolini) selected Tibetan chant for the elders, Persian santur music for general Colchian atmosphere, and Balkan choral music, characterized by a female chorus doubling in two parts a second apart, for the women promoting the growth of new crops with the blood of the young victim of sparagmos, the Greek Dionysiac ritual of dismemberment."
The film was shot between May 1969 - August 1969, filmed in Göreme Open Air Museum's early Christian churches, Pisa, and the Citadel of Aleppo.
The film was released on blu-ray in Region 2 by the British Film Institute and was also made available on the BFI Player streaming service. In Region 1/A, the Criterion Collection released the film in 2023 on blu-ray in a 9-BD box set Pasolini 101.