Pasolini (2015) | Abel Ferrara’s last day in the artist’s life plays like Christ’s Passion
‘To scandalise is a right; to be scandalised a pleasure’
So said Pier Paolo Pasolini, the outspoken Italian filmmaker, writer and Marxist, whose final days in 1975 are relived by fellow provocateur Abel Ferrara.
Willem Dafoe gives an illuminating, introspective performance as the maverick artist who goes about his daily affairs, reading scripts, attending interviews, entertaining guests at the house he shares with his mother, before he is brutally murdered one evening on a beach on the outskirts of Rome in circumstances which still arouse suspicions today.
A film that neither accuses nor investigates, this engaging biopic celebrates Pasolini’s fearlessness and creativity, and can be read as Pasolini’s own Passion. It may have got mixed reception at recent film festivals, but Dafoe’s magnetic performance as well as the presence of Ninetto Davoli, Pasolini’s long-time confidant, lifts Ferrara’s portrait from mere navel gazing.
Now, I have always been a huge fan of Pasolini and this film certainly evokes the spirit and essence of Pasolini the intellectual and the artist, but what about the man? Ferrara’s Pasolini is all words and no action, and only lives vicariously through his friends. And when he does act on his sexual impulses, he’s punished – is it because he prefers the company of men or just young men in general?
Running just 82-minutes, it left me wanting more (although Kim Newman remarked at the screening I attended that it gets an extra star because it was so short) and if I didn’t already know anything about Pasolini before watching, then I’d be wondering what it was all about and what it was trying to say.
But there’s a lot going on under the surface in this one, and Ferrera layers his film with a mix of reality, fantasy and the absurd and he tries to get into Pasolini’s mindset, whose mottos were ‘Great, absolute, absurd’ and ‘To have, possess and destroy’. And these are best displayed in the imaginary scenes with Davoli (who plays like Charlie Chaplin in his dotage), which are quite magical and recall Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows (with a bit of Fellini thrown in). I could happily have watched this film within a film as a stand-alone.
For me, however, there was another story begging to come out: Pasolini’s relationship with Davoli, who is seen in the flashbacks happily married and with a baby. And it’s this scene that says so much about the importance of family in Italy. It’s also the only time that we see Defoe’s Pasolini smile. What is Ferrara trying to say here. Again, it’s all about what’s going on underneath…
With November 2015 marking the 40th anniversary of his death, at just 53, Pasolini is a timey and meticulously researched portrayal of a visionary creative.
Pasolini can be streamed on BFI Player now
Posted on September 12, 2015, in American Indie, Must-See, World Cinema and tagged Abel Ferrara, BFI Player, Must See, Ninetto Davoli, Pasolini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, World Cinema. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.