Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini,
Mamma Roma captures the dispirited world of a spirited prostitute and her efforts to rise above her trade toward a petit bourgeois life for herself and her grown son. In stone ruins and suburban housing projects, Pasolini finds a combination of the seamy and the lyric, the ugly and the classical, rough trade tempered by raw beauty. His dreamlike edits open neorealism to a transcendent modernity, though the film sears with reality. Pasolini, who rarely used professional actors (“I choose actors for what they are and not for what they pretend to be”), questioned using Anna Magnani. Nevertheless, as Mamma Roma walks the streets giving young johns what they want—her stories—or her pimp ex-husband (Franco Citti) his due in ribald song, and as she dances a tango with her soon-to-be martyred son, it’s hard to picture anyone but Magnani in the role.