Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Film: 'Pasolini'

A curious and, to my mind, less than satisfactory film dealing with the (some say "notorious") Italian film director's last day in 1975 before he was murdered at the untimely age of 53 by a picked-up rent-boy. More were suspected to have participated in the assault and running over (with Pasolini's own car) but only the one was jailed. I recall hearing the news after it had just happened, there being a predictable attitude in much of the then more 'popular' right-wing British press that he'd merely reaped what he'd sowed. In the arts world his passing, especially in such violent circumstances, was widely mourned
Gay and Communist, Pier Paolo Pasolini is played here by Willem Dafoe - somewhat unlikely casting, I think - though facially he's not a million miles away from the original.

Although at just 86 minutes it's a commendably short film, it was not long before I found myself fidgetting, not least because I didn't have a clue as to exactly who most of the characters were, apart from the director himself  and his live-in, adoring, ageing mother. All the actors other than Dafoe are Italian, mostly speaking in that language, Dafoe speaking both English and the other, sometimes answering in the first even when being addressed in Italian.

Chronicling just his final day, the film concentrates on his unrealised writing project and his hopes of it being published and filmed - though it's all merely a prelude to the final act of his murder, and the film's final twenty minutes or so posits a likely situation as to what could have happened, the protracted view of his mangled body being left in the mud, sound-backgrounded by a soprano aria. 

Director Abel Ferrara gives us his very personal take on this director, who had made such memorable films as 'The Decamaron', 'The Canterbury Tales', 'The Arabian Nights' (in all these, the bawdy aspect of some of the tales taking a disproportionately prominent place) - as well as the earlier 'Accatone'  and, probably most famously and praised of all, the very matter-of-fact, gimmicks-free, black-and-white 'The Gospel According to Saint Matthew' of 1964.

Maybe I didn't work my mind hard enough to enjoy this film. It had attracted me because I well remember Pasolini when he was churning out films at a fairly prodigious rate and I'd managed to see quite a lot of them, though without exactly being overawed by any. Ferrara's film does little to alter my mind and didn't tell me much more than I already knew.............................4.5


  1. Ray,
    I never heard of Pasolini. Films on this subject always intrigue me ("A Death in Venice") but I have yet to see one that satisfied me. And I especially don't like films that have a gory ending. Doesn't do anything for me. Sort of like punishment for being gay. Too often the ending for gay films, especially the early ones.
    Thanks again for the review.

    1. I'm astonished at your first sentence, Ron, especially since we are of the same generation. I could understand, with some regret, someone of younger years not having heard of him. But let's not get into my own many areas of ignorance on all sorts of subjects.
      Pasolini's film were never overtly gay. If there was any gay activity or emotion at all (very rarely) it's not central to the film. But some of them are really ravishing to the eye.
      As to the man's own life, that's a different matter - and it's a sad fact that his end was as brutal as it was, moreso as he could have been making films for another 20 years or more.

      Regarding 'Death in Venice' ( a Visconti' film), it'd be on my list of my Top 50 all-time favourites.

  2. I was disappointed to read your review Ray as I wanted it to be very good. Agreed about DiV by the way... probably in my top 20. But I'm biased as I've always loved Dirk Bogarde.

    1. It ought to have been so much better, Craig - but by taking just his final day alive it necessarily limits its scope. Nevertheless, not uninteresting.

      As for 'Venice', I'm pleased that you appreciate it too - but Bogarde, the ultimate closet queen right to the end. He must have been the only person on earth who genuinely thought that his denials were being believed, then when he died it all came out in the wash, as though we hadn't suspected it all along. But he certainly had the looks.