1926, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s father foiled an attempt to assassinate Benito
Mussolini. Unfortunately, there would be nobody to intercede when Pasolini fils
was murdered, most likely by a gay hustler, but the Italian auteur’s death has
almost spawned as many conspiracy theories as the Kennedy assassination. The filmmaker’s
final days are now the subject of Abel Ferrara’s speculative passion play, Pasolini (trailer here), which screens
during the 52nd New York Film Festival.
affinity for Pasolini makes perfect sense, given the penchant they share for
sexually and religiously charged subject matter. As Ferrara’s film opens,
Pasolini is wrapping post-production on his Marquis de Sade opus, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. To this
day, it remains one of the most controversial and difficult films ever produced
by a prestige filmmaker. Of course, Pasolini was always an extreme figure,
politically and aesthetically (holding the dubious distinction of having been
expelled from the Italian Communist Party on moral grounds).
builds an atmosphere of foreboding and paranoia, clearly inviting the audience
to suspect anyone so uncompromising must be a danger to the powers that be.
Yet, Pasolini recklessly indulges in the hedonistic lifestyle that will
ultimately kill him. Ferrara intercuts his prowling about Rome’s seedy night
spots with scenes from the outlandish allegory that would have been his next
film: Porno-Teo-Kolossal, a sort of
riff on the Biblical Three Wise Men, in which an old Holy fool’s pilgrimage
takes him to Sodom’s traditional orgy, where the city’s gays and lesbians come
together to procreate.
Pasolini reflects both the absolute
worst and best of Ferrara’s instincts. It is talky, pretentious, and features more
explicit gay sex than any non-homophobic straight cineaste ever needs to see. Yet,
the operatic sweep of it all is rather overwhelming. Ferrara creates a pungent sense
of 1970s Rome, simmering with crime and ideology. Dark and sleazy, it all
radiates malevolence thanks to cinematography Stefano Falivene.
Willem Dafoe, a frequent Ferrara co-conspirator, makes a downright spooky
Pasolini stand-in. He is so gaunt and dissipated looking, the audience might
throw him an intervention if he appears at a screening. Watching him play out
Pasolini’s final days is like watching a ghost. For better or worse, it is his
film and perhaps his career role, but it is also quite eerie to see Pasolini
favorite Ninetto Davoli wayfaring through the “Maestro’s” unmade film.
is bold auterist filmmaking and a quality period
production. It is also rather a mess, but it should not be lightly dismissed.
Despite or because of Ferrara’s myriad excesses, when you walk out of his Pasolini, you know you saw a film.
Recommended for fans of Ferrara and Pasolini at their most Ferrara and
Pasolini, Ferrara’s Pasolini screens this
Thursday (10/2) at Alice Tully Hall and Friday (10/3) at the Gilman, as Main
Slate selection of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Abel Ferrara, NYFF '14, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Willem Dafoe