Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Movie Review: Pasolini

Pasolini ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Abel Ferrara.
Written by: Maurizio Braucci based on an idea by Abel Ferrara & Nicola Tranquillino.
Starring: Willem Dafoe (Pier Paolo Pasolini), Ninetto Davoli (Epifanio), Riccardo Scamarcio (Ninetto Davoli), Valerio Mastandrea (Nico Naldini), Roberto Zibetti (Carlo), Andrea Bosca (Andrea Fago), Giada Colagrande (Graziella Chiarcossi), Damiano Tamilia (Pino Pelosi), Francesco Siciliano (Furio Colombo), Luca Lionello (Narrator), Salvatore Ruocco (Politician), Adriana Asti (Susanna Pasolini), Maria de Medeiros (Laura Betti). 
I cannot help but wonder if I would have been a bigger fan of Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini, if I was more of a fan of its subject – Italian filmmaker/writer/intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini. I should clarify that I’m not not a fan of Pasolini’s – just that he isn’t a filmmaker I know particularly well – having only seen two of his film – The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964 - one of the best films about Jesus Christ ever made, probably in part because it was able by an atheist, who doesn’t try and undermine Christ’s divinity, but takes the text literally) and Salo: or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) – his final, and most infamous film – which debuted shortly after his death and has (rightly) earned the reputation of one of the most “extreme” films ever made. I don’t particularly like Salo – I admire the hell out of it, but at a certain point, it is simply a parade of misery, a parade of one extreme scene of humiliation, sexual violence, etc. after another. That was Pasolini’s point after all – and the final moments of that film are brilliant – but I cannot help but wonder if it’s worth going through all of that just to get to those moments.
Anyway, back to Ferrara’s film. It is a film about the last day of Pasolini’s life – leading up to his murder, which still has many questions surrounding it, and no one quite knows what to make of it – even if there was someone convicted of it, that person later recanted – and the what really happened is murky at best. In a strange casting choice, Ferrara cast one of his favorite actors – Willem Dafoe – to play Pasolini. Why Pasolini cast an American to play the Italian Pasolini, I don’t know. I also don’t know why it works as well as it does, other than the fact that Dafoe is a great actor. He doesn’t really try and change his accent in the film – where he speaks mostly English. The other actors – mostly Italian – speak in their accented English. When the movie is in Italian, and Dafoe speaks it – he doesn’t speak it well (it’s not Brad Pitt in Inglorious Basterds level Italian – but it’s noticeable even if, like me, you don’t speak Italian). And yet, Dafoe has something that works for Pasolini. He has the air of someone who thinks the thoughts of an intellectual like Pasolini – and can say them, out loud, and sound actually intelligent, and not like a pompous ass. I’m sure Ferrara could have found an Italian actor to play the role if he wanted to – he just clearly didn’t want to.
The film drifts – purposefully – from one thing to another. Salo is finished, and will be coming out soon – so Pasolini is doing interviews in support of it – although they are not the kind of hollow, empty interviews with associate with junkets – the movie is barely mentioned. They are going for something deeper here. There are scenes of Pasolini with his friends and family. And there are scenes that Ferrara has filmed that are from the film Pasolini was planning to do next – and never got to make. Pasolini was relatively open about his homosexuality throughout his life – a rarity for that time – and the movie doesn’t shy away from it either, When the murder arrives – and arrive it does – the homosexuality is the reason given (although, of course, that is debatable). Ferrara, or course, doesn’t shy away from showing the violence in that scene – that once again, shows Dafoe suffering on screen.
If there’s one thing clear about Abel Ferrara at this point, it’s that he is going to be true to himself no matter what. It’s crazy to think this guy used to make movies in Hollywood – like King of New York (1990) or his very underrated Body Snatchers (1994) – he wouldn’t get close these days. The film is very much an Abel Ferrara film – so if you’re more of a fan of those than I am, you may like it. But I find that it’s a film that didn’t really fulfill its purpose for me. After it was over, I found myself wishing that Ferrara would just go ahead and make the full version of Pasolini’s next film – it was fascinating, and Ferrara is as good as choice as anyone working these days to make it. Otherwise, I wish I had just caught up with a Pasolini film instead – Teorema probably. I think I’ll do that anyway.

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