Pier Paolo Pasolini the poet, filmmaker, and visionary in left-wing fascist Italy gets 86 minutes screen time with Willem Dafoe as the outspoken gay communist in Abel Ferrara’s tribute, which charts the last 24 hours of the film maker’s life before that fateful ending on a beach outside Rome, where the artist was repeatedly run over by his own car.
On the one hand the film might be seen as a conventional bio-pic, if it weren’t for some irregularities and odd narrative forms along the way. Willem Dafoe, a brilliant casting choice, speaks in English and without a hint of Italian, whilst all those around him are English-speaking with heavy Italian accents- any moments of that language we do hear are not subtitled, unless they form parts of Pasolini’s films. These slight incongruities are a little irritating, as is the precondition that audiences must know and have read Pasolini’s Petrolio, a seemingly obtuse and impenetrable novel, the character of which seems to wander the streets in the beginning sequences of this film indulging in a little rough fellatio - it is possible to mix up Petrolio’s character Carlos with Pasolini and perhaps this is Ferrara’s intention, a play on Pasolini’s own statement that ‘narrative art is dead’.
Certainly some of the film’s more pleasing sequences play with this idea as Ferrara juxtaposes scenes from a film Pasolini was just about to start work on before his death, “Porno-Teo-Kolossal”, where its main character travels to the gay city of Sodom to witness a gay and lesbian orgy night, whose participants come together to propagate the human race before returning to their previous sexual practices, with scenes from Pasolini’s own regimented and compartmentalized life- living in a lush apartment, eating well, being cared for by his mother and, more importantly, cruising the streets at night for male prostitutes. It’s this juxtaposition that brings meaning to the film and points to the disparity and unhappy gap between the world that is conjured up in art and parables (and in Pasolini’s films) and reality. Any sex that Pasolini encounters is rough and ready and awkward, in his films it is erotic, it is how he would like it to be, and embodying (most certainly in the few scenes we see of 120 Days of Sodom) his profound belief that one must be able to scandalise and be scandalised, otherwise one is a moralist- and what’s the point of that?
Thinking about the film I am reminded of Nietzsche’s truism that only in art can one momentarily transcend the grimness of every day life. Marxist intellectual Pasolini seems to agree with this ideal although Ferrara plays up to Pasolini’s despair over modern consumerism. Whilst in a diatribe against the failure of the socialist system, the selfishness and ugliness of society’s need to ‘have’ at all costs, and declaring that there are no more humans, only machines, Ferrara nevertheless dresses his man as Vogue pin up- the pin up Pasolini actually was, all dark sunglasses, designer shirts and a fast car- which all the poor prostitutes he picks up naturally want to drive and eventually becomes, ironically, the object with which he is killed.
‘We are all in danger’ transgressive Pasolini comments, referring not just to himself but also to consumerism, something he saw as just another strand of fascist Italy. It is perhaps something the director would reiterate today if he were alive, perhaps sickened at the increasing blind consumerism of the Western world coupled with the extremism of the Middle East and the clamp down against gay rights in Russia and some African countries. If anything, this film should be a wake up call to those who consider art as a vehicle to advocate change, even in the face of personal danger, and as a means by which to exert the right to scandalise - and should also encourage those less knowledgeable about Pasolini to find out more.
Inspiring and a little controversial, you can book for Pasolini here