Blu-ray review: Pasolini

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Ninetto Davoli
Director: Abel Ferrara

pasolini 1Perhaps the most shocking thing about Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini is that it shows the notorious film director living quietly with his mother. As portrayed by Willem Dafoe (who is certainly cadaverous enough for the role), Pier Paolo Pasolini emerges as an austere, donnish figure, who lives largely in his head and keeps his taste for rough trade on the down-low.

The film charts his last day in faithful detail, interweaving scenes of intellectual discussion about poetry, film festivals and politics with dramatisations from a novel and screenplay Pasolini was working on in his final months (the last a Bunuelian fable about a pair of holy innocents who go to a modern Sodom divided into lesbian and gay sectors).

This “final 24 hours” format was an obvious go-to for Ferrara, who has used something like it before on multiple occasions. The trouble is that, apart from in the tragic way it ended, Pasolini’s last day doesn’t seem to have been very significant. Conspiracy theories abound about how Pasolini met his end, but what is surely true is that it was a pattern of behaviour that killed him, not a random bolt out of the blue. In which case, a bolder, more wide-ranging approach might have served Ferrara better.

As we listen to Pasolini giving his views on Montale and chitchatting with friends and family, there’s a sense of cast and director working hard to establish certain documentary truths, but the film doesn’t really seem engaged in trying to elucidate either him or the epoch in which he lived. It touches on certain glaring contradictions in his character – the way, for instance, he preaches communism and the evil of possessions while dwelling in chic middle class comfort and driving around in a fast car which is the envy of the working class boys he cruises – but seems reluctant to explore them in any detail.

Instead, it luxuriates in a fatalistic reverie, the feeling of an inevitable drift towards death. The circumstances of Pasolini’s murder are presented here less as the appallingly thorough and sadistic obliteration of a human being that it was than as a darkly muffled, ritualistic slaughter not unlike the demise of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

And as a slow, hypnotic dance with death, lushly shot and well acted, Ferrara’s Pasolini has its own kind of beauty and elegance, albeit one that’s a world away from the sound and fury of the Italian director’s own work. 6/10

EXTRAS
A pleasantly chatty and light-hearted 42-min Q&A with the director and some of the cast, with Dafoe emphasising their use of factual sources including Pasolini’s own words. ~ An extremely funny and engaging 23-min interview with Robin Askwith (of Confessions of a Window Cleaner fame), who describes meeting the avowedly communist director in the swanky surroundings of the Hyde Park Hotel and then parrying his requests for real-life acts of peeing and fornication on the set of his version of The Canterbury Tales. It’s a lovely piece, although you can’t help noticing his Pasolini sounds nothing like Ferrara’s. 8/10

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