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Film / The Hawks and the Sparrows

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The Hawks and the Sparrows (Uccellacci e uccellini, "Birds of prey and little birds") is a 1966 film by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Toto and Ninetto, father and son, are taking a long and somewhat aimless walk through the outskirts of and countryside around Rome. While they are strolling along, they encounter a talking crow. The crow, who is not just talking but extremely talkative, tells them a story.

The Show Within a Show story that the crow tells is set some 750 years earlier, around the beginning of the 13th century. None other than St. Francis of Assisi charges two friars, Ciccilo and Ninetto (played by the same actors as Toto and Ninetto) with spreading the word of God to the hawks and the sparrows. The true believer Ciccilo drags his somewhat reluctant assistant along, and eventually, they achieve surprising results. This section of the film takes up a large chunk of the running time.

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Back in the present day, Toto, Ninetto, and the Crow walk on, seeing more strange sights, like a farmhouse whose occupants are surprisingly well armed, an oddball troupe of actors, and a cheerful prostitute.

The score was written by legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone.


Tropes:

  • Belief Makes You Stupid: Seemingly played straight at first when Brother Ciccilo spends a whole year kneeling in the same spot, trying to talk to hawks. Vines grow on him! Subverted when he actually does figure out the language of the hawks and succeeds in talking to them.
  • Buxom Is Better: Ninetto is quite frank with the curvy prostitute they meet on the side of the road, telling her something in Italian that's rendered in the subtitles as "You've got great tits."
  • Clucking Funny: Toto and Ninetto have just stopped and pooped in a hay farmer's field. The farmer is angry, but things get more serious for our heroes when the farmer's wife, back in the barn, busts out a rifle and starts shooting at them. As she shoots, terrified chickens start jumping out of the barn.
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  • Credits Gag: The opening credits are sung, yes, sung, by a cheerful tenor to an upbeat Ennio Morricone tune. The singer has a lot of fun with "Pier Paolo Pasolini".
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Brother Ciccilo is devastated to see a hawk swoop down and eat a sparrow, after all his hard work preaching the gospel to them. St. Francis responds to this news by sending the two friars back to preach to the birds again.
  • Flipping the Table: After Brother Ciccilo assumes his kneeling position and begins to attempt to talk to the sparrows, the townspeople are attracted to this unusual sight. Eventually they start up a whole outdoor market around him. Finally he loses patience and goes around wrecking everything, until the terrified townspeople run away.
  • Ghostly Glide: Towards the end of the film Toto visits a wealthy person he calls "the Engineer", to ask for a break on money that he owes. The servant who admits them to see the Engineer opens a door and then glides through it in a creepy manner.
  • Hypocrite: In one scene Toto visits a family living on land he owns. They are so poor that they are starving. He cruelly rejects their plea for mercy. Soon after Toto visits a rich man that he owes money to, and asks for a break on his debt.
  • Magical Realism: What previously came off as an Italian Neorealism story of the working class takes a left turn into fantasy with the talking crow.
  • The Noun and the Noun: The Farmer and the Viper
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The rhyme is lost with the English title, but Pasolini was obviously going for an ironic rhyme with "uccellacci e uccelini".
  • Show Within a Show: The long, self-contained section of the film in which the crow tells of two Franciscan friars on a strange mission to preach the gospel to birds.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: In the story of the two friars, they actually learn the language of hawks and sparrows. They squawk noisily at the hawks, dialogue that's rendered onscreen in subtitles. Then it gets even sillier when Ciccilo figures out that sparrows communicate by hopping, followed by Ciccilo and Ninetto hopping around in a field in front of the sparrows while that is also rendered onscreen in subtitles.
  • Streetwalker: It seems like a remote dirt road in the middle of nowhere is a poor choice for the gorgeous prostitute that Toto and Ninetto meet, but she services them both in turn.
  • Talking Animal: The very garrulous crow speaks in English, tells a long story and afterwards won't stop yacking about fate and Marxism and the like.
  • Title Drop: St. Francis charges the two friars with preaching to the hawks and the sparrows.
  • Undercrank: Action is undercranked to look sillier on occasions, like when Brother Ciccilo is wrecking the outdoor market, or when Toto and Ninetto are fleeing for their lives after pooping in a farmer's field.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Toto and Ninetto sure do take it in stride when they're greeted with a talking crow.
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