Accattone’s realism reminds me of the film Insiang, particularly its faithfulness in representing urban poverty, and the multidimensional character that irresistibly pulls you in for sympathy. The protagonist is the titular man Accatone who lacks the will to work or do any physical activity save for picking fights, who pimps his girlfriend Maddalena into prostitution, and whose only source of motivation is women. He is charmingly manipulative, and his character becomes much more complex as the film progresses, taking on a new light when he – in chronological order – meets, pimps, and falls in love with the virginal Stella, all while Maddalena is in jail.
Urban poverty, in the film’s case, is post-war poverty in the exurbs of Rome: rubble and mounds of bricks, houses with its adjacent missing, so you can only see the remnant of a flight of stairs jutting and heading to nowhere. You see kids playing with glass soda bottles and women recycling them. Beggars and thieves abound. There was a scene where Accattone and his four other friends, jobless and starving, huddle expectantly around a friend’s grandmother cooking a meal of spaghetti. All this was shown with orchestral music, an amusingly ironic choice, like poo gift-wrapped in gold.
What I like about the film is its resistance to communicate a moral of sorts – what Renata Adler in her New York Times review describes as a “lightness”, a “curious absence of passion”. When towards the end Accattone, with the help of his brother, found himself working for one day hauling scrap iron onto a truck, I thought that it’s a fitting conclusion to the film: a lost man who found himself. (He compared the job as a prisoner’s task: “What is this, Buchenwald?”) The next day he’s back as his usual self, this time attempting to steal salami and ham from a delivery truck on standby, only to meet his demise.