Director: Abel Ferrara
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Riccardo Scarmacio, Ninetto Davioli
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Pier Paolo Pasolini is a name heard by many fans of film, but it would be understandable if they hadn’t seen any of his work, given the reputation of his most well-known and notorious effort, Salo (Or 120 Days of Sodom), an important work but one which is likely not on heavy rotation in one’s DVD collection. Abel Ferrara shares a fair bit in common with Pasolini, in that he is a highly intelligent man who works through provocation and isn’t afraid to indulge himself at the same time. The two make good bedfellows for Pasolini and the addition of Willem Dafoe to the triumvirate results in a film full of brains, as well as a good amount of bodily display.
Pasolini packs an awful lot into its surprisingly brisk 84 minutes. Wisely eschewing the trappings of your normal biopic, this instead shows us the last day or so of Pasolini’s life, as he gears up for the release of Salo, takes in an interview that challenges his worldview and starts plotting his next film, and finally, the grisly, unfortunate events that lead up to his death. That this is all mixed with occasional flashbacks and scenes playing out in Pasolini’s mind (we see the inner visuals that go with his storytelling) should be a recipe for disaster, but Ferrara somehow pulls it off. While more knowledge of Pasolini before watching this is advisable for the casual viewer, even those with a basic knowledge of Salo should still get plenty from the film. While it doesn’t show us quite why the director was so highly regarded, the sheer wealth of thought displayed in the unfinished stories we do see easily demonstrates just why he was in equal measures unmissable and reprehensible for contemporary viewers. It is also frank about his sexual life: in the usual Ferrara way, nothing is left to the imagination, but, frankly, if someone is watching a feature about Pasolini, they should either expect or accept the material on show.
Willem Dafoe shines in the lead. He does not do anything in terms of altering his voice (the mixture of Italian and English speaking dialogue is a distracting compromise, it should be noted), but the fierce intelligence and sadness is felt through every considered movement he makes – it is a cliche, but he does as much when not speaking as he does when he is. It isn’t a showy performance, the type that gets noticed at the end of the year, but it is one which feels dedicated and obviously warm towards the real man in question. The casting of Ninetto Davioli is also fascinating, he himself being Pasolini’s real world lover and colleague, and he throws himself into the role of Epifanio, the lead character in one of Pasolini’s stories. Attention should also be paid to Adriana Asti, who doesn’t get much to do as Pasolini’s mother but gives a reaction at the end of the film which is utterly heartbreaking.
Pasolini is easy to admire and equally so to enjoy. This is not a stuffy, overtly high-minded piece and instead seeks to celebrate and illuminate the intellect of a man taken before his time, who still had an awful lot to say. Seek it out.
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