For all its direct emotional power, Mamma Roma is choppy and often somewhat disjointed as storytelling. The viewer is frequently confused about how much time has passed between sequences, and the dramatic confrontations that the story seems to demand and promise--such as a scene between mother and son after he discovers her prostitution--are often left out. Yet Mamma Roma remains a delicate and at times beautiful work.
A world at once mundane and monumental for Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Madonna and the Grim Reaper both turn up as pendants worn by pimply youngsters and a card-playing loafer suddenly sings a Donizetti aria. Stella Dallas and Oedipus adjusted, Bellissima because it’s Magnani, the anguish and grace of mothering and whoring.
Anna Magnani's acting is as breathtaking as it ever was—Mamma Roma is at once larger than life and recognizably salt-of-the-earth, grandiose and vulnerable. Her performance aids enormously in Pasolini’s project of rendering the character on the level of myth.