As part of Pasolini’s mythical cycle alongside Theorem, Medea and Oedipus Rex, this is not one of his easier films; for that the earlier neo-realist styled works and the later Decamerotic-inspiring Trilogy of Life are recommended.
What Pigsty is, however, is provocative, thought provoking viewing.
Its most jarring aspect, besides Pasolini’s characteristic modern-primitive style approach to filmmaking and exploration of normally taboo material – including why such material is considered taboo – is that there are two distinct narratives.
In one, set in the civilised 1960s present, Julian (Jean Pierre Leaud), the son of an German industrialist and Nazi war criminal discusses politics with a young woman, Ida (Anne Wiazemsky) and rebels against his family and upbringing by the unusual strategy of falling into an apparently self-induced catalepsy.
In the other, set in a vague, pre or early modern past, an unnamed cannibal (Pierre Clementi) and his associates (including Franco Citti) roam a volcanic wasteland where they are hunted down and eventually captured and executed.
While this structure is somewhat reminiscent of Oedipus Rex, where the story begins with Oedipus’s birth in a Fascist Italy like Thebes before then shifting to a more obviously ‘mythical’ / ‘primitive’ landscape after he is taken from the Kingdom, there is no equivalent continuity between the two places and times. One seems historical, grounded, the other mythical, abstracted.
Eventually – possible spoiler warning, though one suspects you don’t really watch a film like this in expectation of a conventional resolution – the two narratives and their respective chronotopes intersect through the shared presence of Ninetto Davoli.
The iconic actor appears as one of the executioners and as a contemporary peasant labourer who confronts Julian’s father and his associates (including Ugo Tognazzi and Marco Ferreri).
The implication, when combined with Clementi’s cannibal’s one line of dialogue, the repeated “I killed my father, I ate human flesh, and I quiver with joy,” is perhaps that the cannibal narrative represents Julian’s unconscious – or half-conscious – desires in their non-sublimated forms.
While demanding the viewer’s active involvement, the film also features some more straightforward grotesquery like the ex-Nazis – Julian’s father being a bloated Hitler clone – and some reasonably amusing wordplay around their names, with one being called Herdhitze.
And then, of course, there is also the fact that it is an arthouse cannibal movie by Pasolini with a cast of arthouse favourites and, as such, like Fascist-sploitation Salo, especially useful to have in one’s store of “nobrow” reference points when someone challenges you for watching a Cannibal Holocaust or SS Experiment Camp.