Here is a wealthy Italian family who are settled in their ways and their comfort thanks to the father (Massimo Girotti) and his ownership of a large factory from which he makes hefty profits. There are the wife (Silvana Mangano) and the son (Andrés José Cruz Soublette) and daughter (Anne Wiazemsky) who live in a mansion house in a well to do suburb, but there is also the maid (Laura Betti), and she provides a way in for a mysterious young man (Terence Stamp). He shows up at a gathering in the mansion and immediately captures the attention of everyone there, to the extent that he is invited to stay for a while, an offer he accepts. First item on his agenda? Seduce that maid...
Although Teorema, or Theorem if you wanted the title in English, features a sexual plot device, you couldn't particularly call it a sexual film, it certainly wasn’t softcore porn though there was a smattering of nudity, for the couplings were largely implied or settled on briefly at the beginning of the act and at the end, with anything more explicit from the middle missed out. A lot of this was down to the way the stranger has it off with every member of the family, and the maid, as not for lustful purposes, he was offering them a spiritual experience that would blow their minds rather than a carnal experience that would set their bodies tingling with pleasure, though you could imagine you wouldn't get one without the other, but it was what was going on mentally that counted.
Stamp was always very choosy when it came to taking his roles, which explains why he spent most of the decade after this barely appearing in anything, and hardly anyone has seen what he did make aside from his General Zod in Superman, but he did favour the arthouse and you didn't get much more arthouse than Pier Paolo Pasolini. Although Teorema doesn't seem to have been one of his fondest acting memories, as it played he had the presence and charisma to make up for the fact we couldn't hear his distinctive, soft voice as he was dubbed into Italian, which can be jarring if the performer has such identifiable tones. Sometimes it was enough just to see him, although with that in mind considering his billing we didn't see tremendously much of him.
Mangano, that Italian sex symbol turned missus to Dino de Laurentiis with all that entailed, was credited above Stamp, and in truth this was more of a showcase for her than him given the stranger was a deeply symbolic part. After spending half the movie shagging his way through the household, his possibly angelic, certainly trickster messenger (Ninetto Davoli, best known for his Chaplinesque turn in The Canterbury Tales) reappears and gives him a letter telling him to return to whence he came, and the rest of the movie plays out with the family struggling to cope with the mystery man's absence. They have all been changed by the magical seeing to they have received, but only the maid can use this in a useful manner, because she is the only one who was not bourgeoisie, and being working class she has better coping mechanisms.
Even if that mechanism sees her transformed into a saint whose fate doesn’t really come across as especially beneficial. For the other four, it's a bit like a horror movie when the supernatural has cursed them, for example the daughter is so bereft that she will never see the stranger again that she goes into a fist-clenched coma, and Mangano's supposedly well-to-do lady about town begins a series of sexual encounters with young men she picks up off the street, hoping that enlightening lightning will strike twice. Pasolini was happy to talk about his motives in interviews, but more than one viewer has come away from Teorema utterly baffled, though oddly no matter how oblique the lessons he was imparting, and how damning his depiction of the ruling classes, it didn't feel like an oppressive watch. But perhaps that's a problem, as the title suggested he was operating on such a rarefied intellectual level that he was not going to connect with the audience he sought; as it was, we had a curious parable that basically relayed his usual poor good, rich bad message in the most bizarre manner he could manage. Music by Ennio Morricone.
[You can find this with others of Pasolini's work in a Blu-ray box set from the BFI, released in conjunction with Abel Ferrara's biopic from the same distributor.]