Director: Abel Ferrara
Major Players: Willem Dafoe, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ninetto Davoli
Out Of Five: 3
How you respond to Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini rather depends on your reaction to the man himself, controversial and outspoken Italian writer, filmmaker and Marxist, Pier Paulo Pasolini. From the film, it’s pretty clear that he’s a something of hero for Ferrara, a source of fascination and inspiration.
The maker of 120 Days of Sodom, The Canterbury Tales and The Gospel According To Matthew (especially controversial in Italy because as he was an atheist) courted controversy and was loved and hated in his home country in equal measure. The film traces his last 24 hours, spent in domestic comfort with his mother and then with his closest friends. Finally, he goes for a drive and the following morning his badly beaten body is found on a beach on the outskirts of Rome.
It’s a day in the life of a great man in a great city. But it’s more than just one day: it’s his last and it essentially paraphrases his life. Woven among the domesticity and his work – bashing away at a portable Olivetti, uncomfortable being interviewed – are extracts from his last completed film, Salo (120 Days Of Sodom) and from his last screenplay, which he was looking forward to turning into a film. Excerpts from his last novel, Petrolio, are dramatized, alongside his words being used as an occasional narration.
All of which gives it a dream-like quality, not so much a bio-pic, more a meditation on the man and his work. Although the film is in English, French and Italian, Ferrara chose the decidedly American Willem Dafoe to play the title role, and the resemblance is close to being uncanny. Yet the actor is quick to point out that he wasn’t “playing” Pasolini, rather imagining his state of mind. It’s a fine point, but one that Pasolini himself would have enjoyed dissecting. How he would have felt about being portrayed on the screen we’ll never know, but Dafoe’s performance is magnetic and commands the screen – when he’s there. Because he’s not in the film as much as we’d like.
Although a conviction was made for Pasolini’s murder, the case still remains open and has provoked all manner of theories and conspiracies, unsurprising given his challenging attitudes to Italian life. Ironically, as the film demonstrates, it was the dark side of humanity and his constant fascination and taste for it that ultimately brought about his death. As a tribute, it’s made with respect, but as a film it has a coolness and a distance that makes real involvement and engagement more than a little difficult.
Pasolini is goes on a limited roll out as of Friday, 11 September and is also reviewed on Talking Pictures.