‘In search of the death of the last poet
only to find the killer inside me …’ Abel Ferrara, Rome 2014
All at the same time Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini pays homage to, is a sketch of, a visual poem about and a celebration of the much respected director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The director, poet, writer, intellectual, journalist, philosopher, novelist and playwright becomes the central focus of this intense biographical drama as Ferrara dissects the final hours of the controversial poet’s life from 00h30 31st October until 2nd November 1975. Set just after the release of his controversial 1975 Italian-French art-film The 120 Days of Sodom, Pasolini is a whimsical swathe of true life accounts, mixed, in part, with imagined scenes to create a film that demands attention, without becoming overly nostalgic.
Brilliantly seducing the audience into the twisted tale of who killed the legendary figure, there is a subtlety to the way events are delicately layered from an unmade Pasolini film. In this sense, there is a confidence and strong engagement with the pre-existing material as we focus on the last days of Pasolini’s life, cut short by his brutal, still unresolved murder, despite a conviction.
Found beaten to death on the outskirts of Rome, it seems that one of the many consequences of Pasolini is to discuss a number of the theories and conspiracy that concern his murder, as we watch the final events of his extraordinary life. Unlike the outspoken writer, most of the events portrayed in the film are subdued, remaining steeped in realism. A fearless intellectual, yet a cool-calm and collected individual drawn to the mean streets, everything Pasolini stood for was anti-establishment. Present in many of the film’s discussions are notions of the destructive qualities of the state, making specific reference to the education system, the consequence of television and consumerism leading to corruption and materialism.
Making specific reference to the western world, the ‘situation’ as it is referred to throughout the film, points to the system of education and popular culture in television culture, often exacerbated by the “holy game of kings” still very evident in politics to which “common sense” never alleviates the many inherent problems suffered by many. The ‘situation’ is the reason for one of the film’s more powerful monologues delivered by the brilliantly versatile Willem Defoe in the title role. Often referred to as the ‘crown prince’ of immersive portrayals, Defoe delivers powerful speech after powerful speech as the film makes good use of the numerous articles and interviews that were given in Pasolini’s last year.
Perhaps one of the beauties of Ferrara’s film is how it manages to make grand political statements without being dialogue heavy. Very much a political film that discusses a multiple of topic including masochism, sexuality, religion and ritual, its puzzle-like structure, heavily surreal in some sequences, is something that stays with you long after the film has ended.
Essentially Pasolini is a search for truth in the land of the imagined, leaving itself open to critical reflection and at the same time forcing you to take a stance on Pasolini’s moral character and work. In the film, Defoe states that film is a “preamble of a testament of one’s little knowledge” that must relentlessly question differences in fiction and reality. With this in mind, can the two be separated?
It cannot be denied that Ferrara’s Pasolini comes from a perspective of respect. In many ways the film places Pasolini as an almost holy figure, those around him seemingly entranced by his way of being as the fight he fought all those years ago very much continues today. And in the same breath, this film does not seek to accuse, nor investigate the cause of his death. Instead what audience’s pay witness to is a very confident, plain spoken tribute to the fearless figurehead. Beautifully mundane, the day’s events offer nothing out of the ordinary in terms of plot despite the margin for treatment allowed for any feature film, audiences becoming privy to his close personal relationship with his mother Susanna as he works on his upcoming novels and screenplay of the time. However in the same breath, the unmade scripts and novels are played out fancifully on screen as he attempts to ”do away with the world” in an attempt to understand the world better, giving a more surrealistic edge to the film.
Ferrara manages to honour the facts by interweaving actual interview answers and newspaper articles in which Pasolini very passionately expresses his radical views alongside the necessary emotional tonalities that keep the film entertaining in a quasi-documentary style that is bewitching in its intensity. Even in its more elaborate, subversive sequences, there is still an inherent confidence to the way Ferrara visualizes Pasolini’s unmade film called the ‘The Search for the Messiah’. This intensity is not to dissimilar to Ferrara’s earlier films. For example his 1990-film King of New York starring Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburne and his later 1992 film Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel. With an impressive filmography to date, this is Ferrara’s and Defoe’s forth collaboration, Defoe’s ability to inhabit such a role hitting the echelons of the sublime. He is relentless in his portrayal bringing great authenticity to the role as his hardened face is shot closely in a number of gloomy, shadowed sequences.
And in its violent climax audiences should really appreciate all that Abel Ferrara has achieved. Excluding its ending, Pasolini manages to carry itself minus any grand sweeping statements and controversial twist plots to create an ambiguous character-study of the man, the myth, the legend in his final hours.
Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark
[SRA value=”4″ type=”BIG”]