Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life wasn’t an easy matter to tell on the big screen. Abel Ferrara’s attempt is a success only partially, as it leaves the audience with an ambiguous feeling of disappointment and astonishment at the same time.
Ferrara’s film aims to tell the last days of the famous Italian filmmaker and writer, and in doing so, it also tries to reconstruct the scent and the historical atmosphere of Pasolini’s years. Following Ferrara’s camera we’re reeled into Pasolini’s life, an existence filled of intellectual meetings with friends and collaborators, meals at home with his beloved mom, and nights of wandering and madness, along with the characters of his stories and some young, well-educated men from the high ranking Rome.
The daring challenge to portray Pasolini on the screen is committed to Willem Dafoe, who’s extraordinary in remarking the behaviour, the expressions and the usual gestures of Pasolini. He’s the absolute protagonist of the film and his character is performed punctually and with a profound intensity, something that Dafoe is able to maintain firmly throughout the movie, transfiguring Pasolini’s soul through his gaze protected by Persol sunglasses. If Dafoe is amazing when he stands on the screen alone, he suffers a lot in the interaction with the other actors. All the other characters sound like personalities roughly sketched and placed in the story only to supply a boundary background to Pasolini/Dafoe. The difficulties in the characters’ relationship are also affected by the questionable choice to shoot the dialogues half in Italian and half in English. This results in a useless acting effort for the cast and in a dull and tuneless representation for a viewer, who’s obliged to follow conversations alternating English and Italian without any sort of context or connection. Sometimes the flow of the dialogues ends up in being obscure, unbelievable and also slightly ridiculous. Clearly it’s nearly pathetic to see Italian people sitting at the kitchen table eating spaghetti, and speaking to each other in perfect English with Californian accent.
…these visions turn into real dramatic bricks, building filmic segments…
One of the best ideas of the film is to use Pasolini’s writing and narrative material to support the whole narration, adding voice overs reading verses and day-dream sequences showing what’s going on in Pasolini’s tormented heart. At times, these visions turn into real dramatic bricks building filmic segments that often receives more attention than the reality track within Pasolini and the historical characters move through. This is the case of Epifanio’s story, the last movie that Pasolini was planning but didn’t have the time to complete. The characters of his upcoming film go from Pasolini’s thought to the dramatic actions, patterning a filmic experience that it’s a net combination between dream and reality, between what lives in the imagination and memory of a poet, and what is part of his daily reality.
The overall pace of the narrative is at times blazing, tragic or messed up, and the nervous and unstable direction by Ferrara is a fair match for a plot that develops as a high hurdles in which the visual and aesthetical aspects are all at the service of Pasolini’s striking figure. Also his death, the catharsis of his character and story, is treated in a detached and yet cynical perspective, which is limited to show the brutality and the rawness of a man and an artist dying.
…any single footage or image is perfectly aligned with all the others…
Ferrara examines Pasolini’s last hours of life and tosses his anxieties and envisions, interrogating on his value as a poet in relation to the artistic form he created and diffused. In this “doomed to death” journey, any single footage or image is perfectly aligned with all the others, giving the impression to watch a story without cut in between, a whirling theatre act with no limits to the violence and disturbing sincerity of its artistic stake.
In a circular structure opening on Pasolini’s mom’s smile and closing on her yell for his death, we are invited to go deep into Pasolini’s world, to seize the real essence of his work and personality. Unfortunately those who were expecting a faithful historical reconstruction of Pasolini’s life can be easily deceived by this intellectual and often pompous dissection of Pasolini’s nightmares and hopes. And even those who would be attracted by this filmic progression might sometimes find it superficial or simply too vague.
…this is a product that will surely arise a huge and harsh debate…
Pasolini is a film that pushes everybody to reflect upon the state of art and of the men who make it. More than once Ferrara appears as lost as the characters he’s bringing to life, and his fragmented as well as ephemeral style is something that many critics and viewers probably won’t forgive. Nevertheless this is a product that will surely arise a huge and harsh debate, as all the problematic and atypical films are used to do.