Film Review | Pasolini: "Natural to expect something deeper and more intriguing"

Posted: September 23, 2015

If one examines director Abel Ferrara’s filmography, his characters and stories, it is not surprising that his path through cinema has come across a complex and versatile personality such as Pier Paolo Pasolini. Both artists are tortured souls and share a vivid interest in humble characters and an obscure fascination with Jesus Christ, to mention just a few similarities. This is why it was natural to expect something deeper and more intriguing from the latest film shot by the American filmmaker, called simply Pasolini, which was screened in competition at the Venice Film Festival last year.

Ferrara follows the last 24 hours of Pasolini’s life and offers his own interpretation of the brutal murder of the Italian intellectual that took place in Ostia, near Rome, during a night in November 1975 and has since then remained covered with mystery and numerous doubts.

The main attraction of the film is undoubtedly Willem Defoe’s superb interpretation of Pasolini. Not only is it the resemblance with the Italian writer that is impressive, but Defoe manages to embody his shy and provocative personality as well as his ordinary life, with simplicity and elegance. “As much as possible”, Defoe explained in an interview with Maurizio Braucci, “we used the actual location of real life events and even Pasolini's personal objects and clothes that friends and family gave us. These relics have great power and magic and help with making contact with the past”.

However, Defoe’s stellar performance does not help the story to achieve unity or appeal to the audience. The biopic fails to face the challenge of the stylistic approach. Partially documentary, partially biopic and even fiction, the film never flows for a minute, stuck in vagueness and with too many plot lines, incapable of either moving or amusing the viewer.

As an Italian, I left the screening room with the bitter feeling that most of the prophetic words about consumerism and its impact on Italian society, those words that Pasolini pronounced more than 30 years ago like an obscure omen, have dramatically come true. Not only in Italy, I am afraid.

Pasolini is out now in selected London cinemas

Read more posts by Michelangelo Nigro here and follow him on Twitter @MichelangeloNig