Quickie Review: Pasolini

Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini loved nothing more than to push the envelope, to scandalize, to shock the senses. So it’s only fitting that Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) should direct a film about his last days since they are gritty birds of a feather. Pasolini stars Willem Dafoe (Spiderman, At Eternity’s Gate) who bears more than a passing resemblance to the man who died in 1975, murdered and left to rot on a beach in Ostia. The film is a kaleidoscope of Pasolini’s final film and his final quotidian existence, eating with his mother, giving an interview to a journalist, writing away on his typewriter, and trolling for young men to have sex with. And throughout there are scenes from an imagined version of his final script. It’s in Italian and English, sometimes subtitled, and sometimes not. And the audience is left to make the connections. The film assumes a knowledge of the filmmaker and his films, frequently making it a frustrating experience. But mostly it’s just too coarse and pretentious for my taste.

Defoe gives his usual great performance. And it’s well shot, but Ferrara’s (and Pasolini’s) love of the ugly and the cruel makes it a hard one to watch. Near the beginning, in what I assume is from one of his films, there are several scenes of extreme sexual degradation, delivered with no context whatsoever. And later in the imagined film there is a very long orgy scene. I get it. Ferrara (channeling Pasolini) wants to shock, but does that make it art or entertainment? What the film doesn’t do, where it misses the mark, is linking his murder to his life. It seems entirely random. Perhaps it was, but…

This is one of those films that seems to be intended for an audience that sees itself as the film cognoscenti. I’d say that if that describes you, go for it. Otherwise, skip it.

Pasolini was made in 2014 and is only now getting a US release for some reason.

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