by Drew Hunt
5. Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) Not just Pasolini's most infamous film—one of the most infamous films, period. Much has been written about Salo's extreme content, but not enough has been written about its richly allegoric story, intricate characterizations, and didactic yet logical moral implications. Full disclosure: I've only seen it once; I'm not sure I can stomach a second viewing.
4. The Canterbury Tales (1972) The second in his Trilogy of Life, which are largely considered his least "political" films, although his insights into sex, love, and the human body are as trenchant and incisive as his more ideological work. The lavish production design is a far cry from his postneorealist phase, but the heightened details lend themselves to Pasolini's latent romantic tendencies.
3. The Hawks and the Sparrows (1966) The closest Pasolini got to making a comedy (not to mention the complete antithesis of Salo). It's a pastiche of sorts—elements of Bertolt Brecht, Charlie Chaplin, Luis Bunuel, and British-style farce are found throughout the film, though the director's own ideological concerns shine just as brightly, illustrated in a talking crow whose cynical ramblings indicate Pasolini's lost faith in a Marxist revolution in Italy.
2. Oedipus Rex (1967) His most poetic film, and perhaps his most personal. The film is entirely removed from the Greek milieu of Sophocles's text, but similar to Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the material is treated with stark objectivity, creating a semiotic tension befitting of the director's structuralist tendencies. The masterful prologue, set in 1922, relates the Oedipus story to both modern times and Pasolini himself, who had a complicated relationship with his father; he called the film a "metaphoric autobiography."
1. Mamma Roma (1962) A great postneorealist film, his dedication to Roberto Rossellini. Pasolini often modeled his compositions after religious paintings—one of the most striking of his career appears at the end of Mamma Roma when he evokes Mantegna's Lamentation over the Dead Christ. The comparison he makes between the death of Christ and the plight of the working class, however heavy-handed, is the film's key image and an eloquent summation of his career as a whole.