“PASOLINI” is Abel Ferrara’s telling of Italian artist Pier Paolo Pasolini’s final day before his tragic murder. Willem Dafoe takes the role of the controversial filmmaker and continues his ability to disappear into a character when he chooses. Ferrara has made note that Pasolini was an inspiration to him and this film to me at times played out like a love letter from one artist to another in spirit. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival in 2014 and making the rounds on the festival circuit through much of 2015 this biopic is finally getting a theatrical release in the United States. What Ferrara created with this piece, is something I enjoyed watching and could very much appreciate. But it’s difficult to envision this as a film that can be consumed by the movie going masses.
The structure completely breaks free of the traditional biopic formula. It doesn’t cover the career, personal life, and legacy of Pasolini like most would expect. It doesn’t take viewers on the journey from start-to-finish, as much as it progresses like a series of stage-play vignettes. From first glance it almost appears to be about nothing as it captures instances of this man’s life over the course of the day. Splashing it in with brief references on the political mood, and stark imagery capturing the climate of the gay community and sexual expression in 1970’s Italy. Connecting these segments of Pasolini’s life together to paint a clear picture of this person isn’t something that can be done with this one. It very much felt like an insider’s film for those already in the know.
But that was the clearly the intent from Ferrara. This feels like a film that needs to be sought out by those who want to see it. Not one that will hit theater chains across the country. However, I certainly appreciate the approach Ferrara took with this narrative through his outside-the-box crafting of it. I think if you are interested in what this film has to offer, that briefly reading up on Pasolini will be able to set the framework work with much more clarity. It will give insight to the inspiration behind the scenes that play out enabling more to be taken from it. I think it also allows the viewer to connect with how this day is depicted as Pasolini seemingly goes about his usual routine. Conversing with his family, conducting interviews, and working on his latest project.
Throughout the run-time his somber demeanor captures a feeling of imposing doom. Through a fantastic performance from Willem Dafoe we get glimpses of the thought processes to Ferrara’s vision of Pasolini’s final day. There was an elegance to the direction that felt like art capturing the artist in many instances. Graphic sexual content is juxtaposed by Pasolini sharing tea with his mother in a warm setting. A quaint scene that takes a slight amount of time to get going as it knows you are probably still collecting yourself from the settings prior. Ferrara clips in scenes from Pasolini’s past works as well that conveyed the edginess of his blunt portrayal of sexual activities that were deemed as taboo to say the least. Ones at times that included political themed characters. Which led to some of the mystery surrounding his murder on the beach at Ostia the night of November 2, 1975.
This is where the film could take a turn for some. There were many dynamics in the life of Pasolini that have since held an aura of the unknown and resulting in speculation around his death. Could it had been politically motivated? Could it have been a mob hit? Or was it a simple hate crime? The artistic atmosphere of this film, and the grace it showed through the various levels of imagination, felt like a contrast to the more literal closing of this story. Ferrara is free to have his own interpretation, yet something about it, despite being captured with a subtly but graphic intensity, just felt too matter-of-fact. I will say it provided the film an indisputable closing act. But it also felt like too simple for a case that had many other parallels in play. To introduce or tease the notion of other possibilities that were relevant to the theories surrounding his death.
Overall however, I did enjoy this film. It was not as informative as many biopics tend to be, but it was beautifully crafted. And without question carried by an unassuming performance from Dafoe as he channels Pasolini’s thoughts on his last day. The approach is unorthodox. But the heartfelt passion of Ferrara is a constant and his artistic expression is beautifully grim. Making this film recommended viewing for those who appreciate something different.