International Releases: Pasolini

Andrew takes a gander at the international release of Abel Ferrara's biopic of Pasolini

Pasolini editing Salo.
The distinguished Italian film director, poet, novelist and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini remains probably the most enduringly controversial artist in cinema history.  Often provoking the Italian government directly with his art and dogged repeatedly with obscenity charges, Pier Paolo Pasolini was that rare auteur whose work continues to engender controversy and scandalize nearly all who familiarize themselves with his films.  More often than not, Pasolini was censored and tried by the Italian government for indecency and political subversion.  An atheist, gay icon, Marxist and cultural critic, Pasolini was entangled in as many as 33 lawsuits over accusations of public disgrace, foul language, obscenity, pornography, contempt of religion and the state.  Years before the impish provocations of Gaspar Noe, Nagisa Oshima, Catherine Breillat and Ken Russell, Pasolini was the penultimate rabble rouser whose work to this day remains very extreme.  His final film Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom has been unanimously called by cinephiles as 'the most disgusting film ever made' and his untimely and gruesome death exploited by the Italian press seems forever linked to his last cinematic creation.  That the equally controversial New York based filmmaker Abel Ferrara of Ms. 45, Bad Lieutenant and Welcome to New York would be the first modern film director to tackle a dramatization of any kind of Pasolini is both surprising and oddly fitting.  While Ferrara's own cinematic lineage couldn't be further from Pasolini's, the result is the most unorthodox yet emotionally satisfying biopic of a difficult and self-destructive artist since Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.

Starring Willem Dafoe as the titular figure, Pasolini darts in and out of the director in the midst of the furor caused by his latest film Salo and like Mishima dramatizes one of the director's unrealized works in the hopes of suggesting what he next project following Salo might have looked like.  In an inspired bit of meta casting, Ferrara casts Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli alongside a child actor playing Davolini for the sections showcasing Pasolini's unrealized final project.  Although Willem Dafoe is much older than Pasolini was when he died and despite speaking nearly all his lines in English, the actor looks and sounds uncannily like the real Pier Paolo Pasolini, right down the facial features and physical demeanor.  It's worth noting Pasolini's own use of ADR and preference for international dubbing of his films (he considered the French dub of Salo truest to his vision, believe it or not) in a way plays into the use of English in Ferrara's biopic although there are a number of times Dafoe's Pasolini does speak his native language.  The film is also a peer into the tranquil calm of the man's home life living with his mother as he read's the morning paper with a cup of tea, as his mother exudes love for her son and apprehension over his latest creation.  Much like Ferrara's previous film Welcome to New York, it's a bilingual piece casually alternating between Italian, French and English.  Ferrara's known for his gritty and often deliberately sloppy camerawork and in recent years has perfected it to a high art form completely all his own visual language.  Ferrara himself has run into censorship problems in the US over Welcome to New York not unlike the focus of his central protagonist here.  

Ostia: The Death of Pasolini
That said, Pasolini is primarily for fans of both it's subject and director Abel Ferrara.  In Ferrara's pantheon, it's among his least accessible works and to some degree preexisting knowledge of Pasolini's work, personality and public reception is key to appreciating it.  It's a handsomely shot and directed piece with always fine acting by Dafoe.  

The dramatization and nature of Pasolini's violent death (which was so shamelessly exhibited in the Italian press) is tough to comprehend let alone see happen and Pasolini's homosexuality infused in his work (particularly Salo) will come as a shock to the uninitiated.  The rhythm is a bit jagged and those unaccustomed to what Ferrara's discussing here will be lost.  But if you're, like me, a fan of Pasolini's oeuvre (my personal favorite remains his first film Accatone), Ferrara's film can be a rewarding cinematic experience. Though it remains currently unavailable in the United States (likely due to the controversy surrounding the US release of Welcome to New York), those keen on international cinema and own all-region blu-ray players are strongly urged to seek this out.  Not a masterpiece but an intriguing portrait of one of Italy's most important filmmakers that is as beguiling, confounding, complex and deeply fascinating as the man himself.


- Andrew Kotwicki

Like this review? Please share. 
Pinterest Google+ StumbleUpon Twitter Reddit Facebook