Abel Ferrara is a fascinating mess of a director, he has made some classics like his debut punk rock slasher film Driller Killer and the early ’90s crime films like King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. He tried Hollywood filmmaking which produced the brilliant remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers simply retitled Body Snatchers. Ferrara due to pissing off everyone in Hollywood and his much publicised problems with drugs and alcohol he has been forced back into independent filmmaking. Pasolini is a breath of fresh air in his work and quite possibly his most restrained film.
Willem Dafoe plays the title character Pier Paolo Pasolini who was for those who don’t know one of the most influential Italian film directors of all-time. The film is however not a biopic but a day in the life of Pasolini and specifically the final day of his life which culminates with his mysterious brutal murder. It’s interspersed with scenes from the unfinished film Pasolini was working on before he died Porno-Teo-Kolossal. Pasolini was about to release his most controversial and possibly his finest work Salo which may or may not have a role to have played in his murder.
Some purists may be annoyed by the fact Dafoe uses his normal American voice to play this master of Italian cinema but it actually helps the film and the few times he does speak Italian it’s done so seamlessly. Dafoe ever since the ’80s has been one of those actors who even in crap gives his best and in Pasolini he really inhabits the mind of Pasolini so much so some friends of Pasolini’s cried because he looked so much like him. Dafoe hasn’t been this fearless since Antichrist and the film is pretty much on him for the film’s too short running time of slightly over 80 minutes.
Ferrara decides to just play the events pretty much as close to what happened as possible. The possibly conspiracies about him being a part of a mob hit are left out and the hustler Giuseppe Pelosi who supposedly and confessed to his murder later retracted his confession decades later. Pasolini was hated equally by the left and right due to his radical views and his open homosexuality due to an early scandal early in his career.
The film may not appeal to non-fans of Pasolini but due to Dafoe’s ability to transform himself into this ex-Marxist transgressive gay filmmaker who possibly got killed for his art is a sight to behold. Adriana Asti plays Pasolini’s mother and gives some real emotional heartache at the back and Asti was actually a friend of Pasolini’s and appeared in some of his films. Ferrara normally is much flashier but the film is surprisingly tasteful for a man who once said “I believe to give scandal is a duty, to be scandalised a pleasure, and to refuse to be scandalised is moralism.” The disc includes a Q&A with most of the cast and Ferrara and at the end features a cameo from Wes Anderson along with an interview Robin Askwith who speaks of his time spent with Pasolini.
Biography, Drama | USA,2015 | 18 |BFI DVD | 26th October 2015 (UK) |Dir.Abel Ferrara | Willem Dafoe, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ninetto Davoli |Buy:Pasolini (Blu-ray)