Film Review: Pasolini (2014)
By Erik Nielsen
“Life is a form, that which, is an illusion,” says the late director Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) as he begins to jot down what will become his final script, in the beginning of the cinematic biopic Pasolini. His work to many was a mystery--part of a form that was poetic, divine and at times, pornographic.
Directed by Abel Ferrara, the film is bold and ambitious, even for Ferrara who in many ways is the heir to the dirt that Pasolini has left behind. With films like Bad Lieutenant, King of New York and Body Snatchers, he’s never shied away from controversy, much like Pasolini himself. They both reserve their right to scandalize through art, and the film proceeds as such. There’s a blowjob scene, an orgy and a brutal beatdown. This film is not lacking in what we know and love about Ferrara.
In the film, we follow Pasolini in his final 24 hours of life. We see him play records, eat dinner with his mom, enjoy a plate of pasta and bounce around between interviews. But we also get imaginations of what his unfinished works might look like, which include a novel, poems and a final script. Pasolini was the rare filmmaker who was also a public intellectual, publishing more essays and poetry on politics than films he directed. These scenes add layers and create films inside the film, paralleling Pasolini’s life. The frames are gorgeous as we traverse different parts of the Italian landscape. It also provides a deeper understanding of how Pasolini saw the world. It was his way to create reality by showing reality. Ferrara takes those visions and runs with it.
Dafoe is one of our most dangerous actors - not because of his reputation, but because of his willingness to take on controversial figures, some that have been deified (think van Gogh or Jesus Christ) and presents them in all of their flaws and complexities. Pasolini is someone who is soft but who also believes in his free will as a means to uproot, confront and revolutionize. We get glimpses into part of his hostility which Dafoe masks with humility. For instance, when being pressed by a French journalist, Dafoe (as Pasolini) starts to get angry, then restrains himself. The camera is fixed on his face as he stands up and tells the journalist he’ll write down his answers instead, because he can’t speak properly and shows him the door. It’s the quiet moments like these where we can study the jagged lines in Dafoe’s face as the camera lingers, giving the film all the more power.
The film closes with Pasolini’s murder. He was an openly gay man and many believed the murder to either be gay bashing or a political assassination. With his death, Ferrara shows us what the final scene of Pasolini’s final film might look like: a man climbs the steps to paradise. Exhausted, he sits, stops and looks back on earth with a heavenly white light shining behind. An angel then appears, taps him on the shoulder and says “perhaps, there is no end.”