Film Review: Pasolini

Abel Ferrara’s film devotes itself to exploring the last day of film director Pier Pablo Pasolini’s life. The Italian writer, poet, film director and intellectual was a Marxist who attacked the ruling Christian Democratic party for being in league with the mafia, and his films upset the Vatican who accused him of blasphemy.

His death also remains equally controversial and shocking. Was he killed by rent boy Giuseppe Pelosi who confessed to murdering Pasolini on the night of 1 November 1975, or was there a plot by neo-fascists or a criminal gang to finish him off for being a ‘communist’ and a ‘faggot’?

This is no simple biopic, nor does it explore why or who murdered him, instead it mixes Pasolini’s last hours with scenes from fictional projects he was working on at the time. At home in his apartment, he lives with his mother (Adriana Asti) and his work projects are organised by his housekeeper/secretary (Giada Colagrade). Everything here, as he gets up to start the day is deadly quiet and orderly, the only intrusive noise is of his secretary’s footsteps on the wood flooring.

Yet, as we see in the opening scene where Pasolini is in an editing suite viewing scenes from his latest film ‘Salo, or the 120 days of Sodom’, his imagination dwells on sexual excess and inhumanity. Scenes from Pasolini’s second novel, Petrolio, show a ‘despicable’ central character giving blow jobs to a line up of working class men and another has him attend a gathering where an anecdote about a plane crash is recounted.

A longer sequence, taken from Epifanio, a script that Pasolini was working on at the time, has a middle-aged man shocked by the news that the ‘Messiah is born’. He follows a star from Rome to the city of Sodom where on arrival, it is the annual night when the lesbians and gays get together to procreate. This is shot in the same style and borrows music from Pasolini’s film The Gospel According to St. Matthew. After watching riotous scenes of fornication accompanied by fireworks, the man ends up climbing the steps to Paradise that are never ending.

Willem Dafoe is outstanding as Pasolini, who is represented as a self-contained person who stops an interview with a journalist from La Stampa because he thinks he is giving too much away. The setting and fashions, combined with the cinematography emphasising a brown dingy existence with flashes of grey tinged brightness, looks as if it was filmed in the 1970s by Pasolini.

This is a multi-textured view of a man and his work that rails against a society that educates us to become unthinking materialistic, money-obsessed robots of the system. As a person not in synch with the establishment in terms of his sexuality, politics and spirituality, he felt doomed and had a sado-masochistic desire for his own destruction. The film leads us to his last moments along a tense tightrope of ambiguity that is unnerving, surprising, shocking and enigmatic as life itself.

Nigel Watson

Pasolini is playing at Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema until October 15.


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