My brief Empire review of Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini is online. Here’s an expanded version with more sex and violence …
Though it includes extremely explicit sex scenes and concludes with the beating and murder of its subject, Abel Ferrara’s portrait of the last few days in the life of the writer-director Pier Paolo Pasolini is surprisingly restrained and tactful. It’s at least as interested in the curiously calm and domestic life of its protagonist – played behind Pasolini’s real tinted glasses by a subdued yet effective Willem Dafoe – as it is his fantasies and excesses, which are depicted in the manner of Paul Schrader’s Mishima with illustrated extracts from his memoirs and an unproduced screenplay. In 1975, just after the release of the controversial Salo, Pasolini gives guarded yet eloquent interviews, lives quietly at home with his mother (Adriana Asti), enjoys spending time with friends, visits empty restaurants after hours where he is served fine food … and ventures out in search of rent boys, one of whom he treats to a meal before he is battered by a pack of youths on a waste ground and run over by his own car.
It doesn’t delve into the conspiracy theories around Pasolini’s death and (it’s been said he might have been deliberately targeted by fascists or ‘the authorities’ for his outspoken leftism). Of course, there’s an irony in that the Pasolini we see is plainly privileged in his access to cultural and political elites and the film industry (a clip from Salo is licensed from MGM) and also has what must be seen as an enviable lifestyle – no one in his circle gives him a hard time for his political beliefs, artistic endeavours or sexuality … which makes it all the more shocking when he is assailed by working class thugs who abuse him for being ‘a faggot’ as they beat him, and perhaps also avenge themselves on a class exploiter (an earlier autobiographical fantasy shows the younger Pasolini as compliant but indulged as he sucks off the first of a gang of seemingly obliging happy hustlers). Ferrara, whose career was starting just as Pasolini’s ended, casts Riccardo Scamarcio as Ninetto Davoli, Pasolini’s friend and one-time lover, but brings on the white-haired, dignified yet gnomish Davoli to play the lead (Epifanio) in an extract from Porno-Teo-Kolossal, the script Pasolini was working on, which seems like a gay version of Fellini’s City of Women, in which Rome is represented as a modern Sodom where gay and lesbian crowds come together for heterosexual reproductive public couplings on an annual festival held under the sign of a Bethlehem star which indicates a possible messiah in the making.
Things we never expected to see in a movie department – Maria de Medeiros in a frizzy blonde perm doing an exact impersonation of frequent Pasolini collaborator Laura Betti, talking about the making of Jansco’s Private Vices, Public Virtues (Betti was also in several Mario Bava gialli). In its vision of an artist engulfed and brought low by the world he has observed, makes a surprisingly apt book-end for Ferrara’s first feature, The Driller Killer – which also featured a scene in which a gay-for-pay hustler, the painter protagonst, opts to kill the guy who’s making moves on him rather than go through with the trick.