Jim Aindow reviews a film about the final days of Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini
‘Pasolini’ is a new film by Abel Ferrara; it is an imaginative, compelling and sometimes bonkers portrayal of events in the last days of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian Marxist intellectual, poet, writer & filmmaker.
‘Narrative art, you know, is dead ’, we are told not once, but twice. Well he may have been wrong about that, but in the Italy of 1975 it wasn’t only the modernists who believed that a conventional sequential description of events could no longer express the complexities of contemporary life. In fact many, including Pasolini, thought that Italian society and all its conventions were about to collapse. In an interview within the film he warns a journalist that ‘violence is coming’. ‘Hell is rising up towards you’. He wasn’t clairvoyant, this was during the ‘years of lead’, so named because of the amount of bullets fired. A weak, corrupt government, a large autonomist revolutionary left, and political assassinations by both left & right, plus state initiated terrorism, Italy appeared to be leading to a radical rupture. However for Pasolini personally, the violence was to be immanent.
Ferrara has made a fabulous looking film which mirrors the style of Italian art house movies of the period and takes Pasolini’s advice with regard to form. It moves between scenes of domesticity, fantasy and a film within a film, it jumps from English and Italian to French, sometimes without subtitles. It’s a movie that keeps you on your toes, but there is also plenty to smile at, including a character in the sequence interpreting his last un-filmed script, who can only be described as a laughable Dr Who reject.
Ferrara’s does touch on the chaos of the period, but it Pasolini the person in all his contradictions, his militant sexuality and radical filmmaking that holds his interest. All played with gravitas as well as playfulness by the terrific Willem Defoe.
We see the middle aged ‘mummies boy’ being awoken with a cuddle from his ageing mother, the leftist intellectual being fussed over by his adoring assistant and the bourgeois playboy with a taste for young men from the poorer side of town.
To shock was central to Pasolini’s philosophy: ‘to scandalize is a right, to be scandalized a pleasure', especially where religion and sex were concerned. Pasolini was very much out as a gay man, and he not only upset the orthodox church, but also the orthodox left, and was ousted from the Communist Party.
Group sex, orgies suggesting bacchanalian Rome, frenzied copulating of gays with lesbians to propagate the next generation, abandon rather than sensuality, servants being buggered by those being served & vice versa.
His fearlessness in the face of conservatism is to be admired but there are also problems with his uncritical interpretation of the laws of desire. Luckily Ferrara is aware of this and whilst this is clearly homage to Passolini, it isn’t an uncomplicated one.
In the final events we witness Pasolini pick up a rent boy from a bar full of ‘hopefuls’ looking envious as the pair drive off in his Alfa Romero. Pasolini acts as if they are on a romantic date, ‘do you want to eat?’ ‘What about a drive to the beach?’ We see Pasolini clearly enjoying the boys company, approving of his appetite and honest lack of etiquette. However he seems oblivious to the actual basis of their relationship.
Pasolini asks: ‘do you have a girl?” “What do you do? Do you go dancing?”
To which the boy answers “You need money to go dancing”
“You don’t need money to dance,” retorts the Marxist poet incredulously.
“You need money for everything” answers the teenager with resignation.
At the beach, the transaction at the heart of their ‘relationship’ unfolds, only to be interrupted by a gang of hateful youths bent on giving the ‘cocksucker’ a beating, but the violence turns murderous, and it’s the rent boy who actually kills Pasolini.
It’s a tragic ending to an amazing artist who remained combative and defiant till the end.
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