Review: Abel Ferrara's Pasolini

Fresh from the controversy of his little-seen masterpiece Welcome to New York, Abel Ferrara sets his sights on recounting the final days of another controversial figure, cult Italian filmmaker, author, playwright, poet, philosopher (etc.) Pier Paolo Pasolini - the man behind the still-shocking, Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Ferrara steers clearing of standard biopic triviality and opts for a more scattershot, dreamlike portrait of Pasolini's final moments - one that embodies the spirit of the slain filmmaker's boundary-breaking work.

After enraging the Italian elite with his outspoken depictions of sexual debauchery and power in his Marquis de Sade adaptation, Salò, Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) was soon murdered. Debated as to whether this was a politically-motivated hit or simply a hook-up gone wrong, Ferrara opts to tell this sombre tale with a sense of impending fatality. Pasolini showcases the filmmaker's unfinished film project, professional life, sexual appetites, and domestic life - each contributing to this loosely enigmatic portrait of the filmmaker.

Intercutting Pasolini's interviews with journalists and discussions of his philosophical leanings with his charming home-life, and free-wheeling sex life, Maurizio Braucci's starkly intelligent screenplay recreates un-filmed scenes from Pasolini's unmade final film project, Porno-Teo-Kolossal (presumed to have become a cohesive cinematic project with his final novel, Petrolio), with a gusto and outlandishness that would make the departed filmmaker proud. In his depiction of Porno-Teo-Kolossal, Ferrara presents Pasolini's story of a comet passing that signals the one night of excess where gay men and lesbians indulge in a mass orgy to create the Messiah. There's a sense of carefree mass pleasure in this animalistic ritual, which when paired with the unsettled social and political landscape of 1970's Italy, creates an unnerving atmosphere of impending dread. Similarly a scene where Porno-Teo-Kolossal's protagonist felates several men in a desolate field, there's an uncomfortable parallel with the questions behind Pasolini's own demise.

These scenes from Porno-Teo-Kolossal weave in and out the loose narrative actions of Pasolini's final days, creating what feel like continued parallels and blended realities. Scenes of mass-felatio can be followed by gentle moments between Pasolini and his elderly mother, all contributing to the diverse melting-pot of Pasolini's psyche and Ferrara's unflinching portrait of unrest. At a brief eighty-two minutes and shot with Stefano Falivene's darkly rich palette, there is something dreamlike about this dark, moody and ultimately unnerving glimpse into seventies Italy - particularly its bone-chilling final scenes, which Ferrara shoots with a bludgeoning brutality likely to leave audiences shell-shocked.

Willem Dafoe captures Pasolini's fearsome intelligence and quiet bravado with a magnetic energy - never feeling anything less than a compelling screen presence. Fans of Pasolini's work will have fun with Maria de Medeiros's performance as Laura Betti, whilst Adriana Asti is quietly excellent as the filmmaker's adoring mother.

Pasolini is an astounding feat that daringly captures Italian political and social unrest with its depictions of a chaotic, animalistic sexuality and dreamlike exploration of the carnivalesque. Ferrara and Dafoe capture a light at the heart of this period in their ambiguous exploration of Pasolini and his magnetism, incomparable cinematic aesthetic and unnerving final moments.

Pasolini hits DVD/BR on October 26th.


Stars: Willem Dafoe, Adriana Asti & Maria de Medeiro
Director: Abel Ferrara

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