A fiercely independent filmmaker chronicles one of cinema’s most searing non-conformists – sounds like a match made in film heaven. Abel Ferrara, in all creative virtue, attempts to demystify Pier Paolo Pasolini, arguably the most controversial Italian director that ever lived, and in turn sublimating the quintessence of the multi-hyphenate’s vast artistic, political and moral life in a brief 86 mins. How do you streamline Pasolini – whose occupations included (but not strictly limited to) filmmaker, poet, novelist, journalist, intellectual, philosopher and political activist – within the constraints of the biopic genre and focus solely on the man’s final, earthbound 24-hour existence without skimming through the multitude layers of this culturally significant person?[divider]+[/divider]
Where other conventional, strait-laced biopics delve into their subject with meticulous impersonation and realism, Ferrara’s Pasolini isn’t afraid to fabricate, reconstruct and even going so far as dramatise fictional routes.[divider]+[/divider]
Ferrara’s answer is in his narrative construction. Where other conventional, strait-laced biopics delve into their subject with meticulous impersonation and realism, Ferrara’s Pasolini isn’t afraid to fabricate, reconstruct and even going so far as dramatise fictional routes. An accomplishment of sorts, specially how wild, protean and epicurean Pasolini’s filmography is. That the proto-deity of cinematic bacchanalia, mastermind of some of celluloid’s most daring artistic provocations The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Decameron and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, has been simmered down to the quotidian details of a day-in-a-life portraiture, defining Pasolini through his creative routine, family life and his irrepressible escape to sexual deviation.
At first, it all feels sedate with Ferrara matter-of-factly depicting Pier Paolo in his domestic abode, the clickety-clack of his typewriter as he works on his novel Petrolio echoing across his house full of banal family interactions. It’s the observant style that marks Ferrara’s approach, his camera elegantly tracking Pasolini’s course of action from his edit suite (putting final touches on Saló, the pièce de résistance that would shake Italian society) to his office and home, where he gives his last withering yet fiercely intelligent interview to La Tempare. It is here that we get a taste of the man’s staunch resistance to his country’s political agenda, the crass commercialism and his Marxist view of the world. The man who made films as critiques to social structures – whether it be religious, educational or political, comes across as a physically weary yet verbally acerbic, horn-rimmed, leather-clad intellectual looking like a cool guy from a car or whisky advert. It’s ironic – but the guy was a walking, talking ironic genius.
Interspersed throughout this 24-hour account are dramatisations of scenes in Pasolini’s final incomplete works – Petrolio and screenplay Porno-Teo-Kolossal – all executed to varying levels of success and tedium. Some look like accomplished extracts from Arabian Nights and Saló, whilst others feel stagey and contrived. The grand bacchanal orgy in the city of Sodom (natch) is a standout, obviously, with Ferrara translating Pasolini’s visual hedonism like an old pro. These are all channelled through Pasolini’s creative pursuits, as well as his personal sexual outlets such as cruising nighttime Rome for lusty male youths. The great controversy surrounding the artist’s death isn’t so much theorised as confronted by Ferrara, who sticks by the evidential gauntlet and sidestepped waging political swords around. It’s a conscious choice – and a sensible one. Although dramatically less explosive, Ferrara posits that Pasolini died out of homophobia, a hate crime that ended an intensely prolific man’s life. But no matter how Pasolini actually died – whether it be from an ugly, devastating crime or from a bigger political conspiracy – it doesn’t change the fact that Pasolini was swiftly derived from creating and completing his art to the world. And that is enough to mourn for.