Pasolini’s second feature continues many of the thematic concerns explored in Accattone with the benefit of a larger budget and better camera equipment at the director’s disposal. Pasolini continues to explore the lives of morally compromised individuals on the fringes of society who find themselves struggling to find meaning and purpose in a world which seems designed to grind them into dust. Pasolini uses the typical neorealistic device of presenting a slice of life as a means of typifying the the experience of the lower classes. However, his depth of characterization and willingness to grapple with the ugly realities of life single Pasolini out from his contemporaries as a filmmaker willing to tackle injustice head on, with little concession to the status quo.
This tale of a former prostitute striving to escape her past while securing a future for her son offers little moral instruction or easy platitudes about poverty and privation. Instead, Mamma Roma abounds with ambiguities which allow for the possibility that the difficulties experienced by the characters. These ambiguities extend to the film’s visual language as well. Pasolini uses the juxtaposition of profane and sacred images to draw connections between the suffering experienced by marginalized peoples and historical martyrs. The use of crucifixion imagery in the film’s heartbreaking conclusion calls to mind the torture scene in Rossellini’s Rome Open City. However, Mamma Roma‘s bold stylistic choices differentiates it from the classic works of neo-realism and signals another step in Pasolini’s development as a radical cinema artist.