A stranger in the house

DIRECTOR'S CUT; Atom Egoyan praises Terence Stamp's enigmatic performance in Theorem
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The Independent Culture
We imagine that Terence Stamp is in the whole of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Theorem, but his performance only constitutes about one quarter of the story. Most of it deals with the consequences of his arrival, after he moves into this family and shatters the life of each member. They all go through some sort of a transformation: the mother becomes a nymphomaniac, the daughter is completely paralysed, the son becomes an artist but ends up urinating on his own canvases and going mad.

Stamp is able to absorb and somehow understand what these people see in him and to take them to their most extreme point. And yet, in the viewer's mind, he never seems to be doing this in a malicious way or to be taking advantage of the situation. Never is there anything remotely narcissistic about his performance. It's a tour de force.

There's this great moment when the maid encounters him and is overcome with emotion. She goes running out of the house and starts mowing the lawn, very frantic. Then she runs back, falls on to the bed and begins to lift her skirt. He communicates to her that this is not what he wants and there's a tremendous sense of tenderness between the two of them.

In another extraordinary sequence, the father is in physical pain and Stamp takes his feet and puts them on his shoulder. It's such an absurd and extreme gesture, but he makes it seem completely natural and matter of course.

Theorem is one of the first examples of what has become an ugly situation. It's a European co-production and there was probably pressure on Pasolini to use a hot young English star. But here it really works: Stamp's foreignness, instead of jarring, contributed to the chemistry of the piece.

I gather he found working with Pasolini a frustrating experience because he never really felt he was receiving direction: Pasolini was quite removed, and quite cruel. What's odd is that he gives such a focused, nuanced and controlled performance. I've always been inspired by it because in a lot of my own films the central characters are ciphers to some extent, and in a similar situation: they're having an effect on other people which surprises them. Stamp's certainty, his sense of assurance and the very calming effect that he exudes in that role left a deep impression on me. He convinced me that you could have a central character who is mysterious to himself and to the audience.

Pasolini is one of the most important minds of post-war intellectual activity. He's a great essayist, novelist, painter and film-maker. Some of his work can seem dated now: he was a devoted Communist and that's very evident in his films. But I can't think of a director who has challenged and reinvented himself to such an extent with the possible exception of Buuel.

I'm always shocked at how how little people remember of Pasolini, Antonioni or Resnais, except as a parody of what their films really are. Everyone has this idea of what constitutes a "Bergmanesque" film but they don't go back to look at those works and to realise how astonishing and powerful they still are. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm very much a product of the cinmathque: these are all films that I've revered, and I'm more a product of them than of pop culture.

n Atom Egoyan's films include 'Next of Kin', 'Family Viewing', 'Speaking Parts', 'The Adjustor' and 'Calendar'. His new film, 'Exotica', reviewed left, opens tomorrow