The Hawks and the Sparrows is a fascinating, but difficult to interpret film. Pasolini constructs the film as a space in which he can explore conflicts between Christianity and marxism, a schism which he views as key to Italy’s problems in the decades following WWII. The film has the tone of a fable. Its characters are archetypal, meant to embody certain traits or attitudes indicative of various classes within Italian society. Overall, the movie seems to be a sort of ideological comedy, combining the slapstick antics of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin with Pasolini’s overarching political concerns. Though certain sections of the film will remain opaque to contemporary audiences who’ll have difficult navigating the intricate system of references and allegories the director has constructed, it is quite entertaining, nonetheless. This is due, in large part, to the performances of its two leads, one of whom, Toto, was the most famous Italian comedian of his age.
After a single viewing, it is difficult to say what the exact political message of The Hawks and the Sparrows is, besides noting that it offers a broad satire of class relations, demonstrating the means through which each class under capitalism is forced to extort and be extorted from in order to maintain economic relations. In this sense, the film mirrors the original intent of absurdist art which was intended to highlight the non-logic of modern life in industrialized societies. Similarly, the film makes visual references to both religious imagery, a recurrent feature of Pasolini’s work, and the film’s of Federico Fellini, one of Pasolini’s close friends. Upon watching this film, one gets the sense that it is an intensely personal vision for Pasolini, a movie whose difficulties would be alleviated immediately if one could have the opportunity to speak with the director. Since this is not an option, however, it remains an elusive if fascinating feature whose striking imagery and ideological trappings help it to rise above its cryptic structure and subtext.