Friday, October 3, 2014
Controversial Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini finally gets a kind of a biopic in Pasolini, starring Willem Dafoe. A journalist, poet, and philosopher among other things, the homosexual Pasolini is a tough subject to try to encapsulate in a film, especially one with as short a running time as this one's 87 minutes. Director Abel Ferrara, no stranger to controversy himself, wisely chooses to simply focus on the final days leading up to Pasolini's lurid murder. The resulting film is, like the director, a study of contradictions and not just a little perplexing.
Ferrara shows us snippets of Pasolini's final interviews, where he rails against consumerism, defending the poor and offering political calls for action albeit from the well-appointed home where he lives with his mother (Adriana Asti) and a personal secretary. Every morning he reads from a pile of newspapers neatly laid out for him by his secretary who brings him a cup of espresso as if she were a servant.
Ferrara gives us a taste of Pasolini's ability to offer up equal helpings of the profane and the poetic in the same movie. Not only does he show us actual clips of his final film Salo: 120 Days of Sodom as the director works on it in the editing room; Ferrara imagines two of Pasolini's final works-in-progress, weaving in threads of his novel Petroleo and his unfilmed movie Porno-Teo-Kolossal (the latter featuring Pasolini's beloved alter ego, Ninetto Davoli). Resembling Pasolini's style more than Ferrara's, these interludes possess an atmosphere of surreal beauty often interrupted by vulgar moments of a sexually explicit nature.
Dafoe is excellent as Pasolini, performing most of the part in New-York accented English even while the rest of the cast may be speaking in unsubtitled Italian. This does two things. It allows the audience to focus on Pasolini's perspective divorced from that of the rest of his associates or interviewers. It also subtly indicates how much the New York-bred Ferrara identifies with Pasolini, a director who was also assailed for too much frankness onscreen. It's an imperfect point of identification because Ferrara has been less overtly political than merely exploitative in his movies. But that's just a quibble. Pasolini is an impressionistic inquiry into the director and what better way for Ferrara to deliver that than to give us his own impression of the filmmaker.
Pasolini is playing at the 52nd New York Film Festival tonight at 9 pm at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center's Howard Gilman Theater, 144 West 65th St (south side between Broadway and Amsterdam), New York, NY 10023; 9:15 pm and 11:59 pm at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th St (north side between Broadway and Amsterdam, upper level), New York, NY 10023. For ticket information go online here, or call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.