MIFF 2015: Pasolini

Where to begin with Pasolini? Both the man and the movie are as beguiling and absurd as one another, a series of celluloid images that appear to perfectly complement the spirit of the figure at its centre, and I mean spirit in its most effervescent sense. The nucleus of Abel Ferrara’s recent biopic is of course the controversial and acclaimed writer, director, poet and socio-political commentator Pier Paolo Pasolini, here inhabited by Willem Dafoe, as he wanders about his last day on Earth.

To begin at the beginning might be the most logical course of action when retrospectively assessing Pasolini, not because narrative suggests that we should, but rather because Ferrara packs the beginning of his fever dream with a series of powerful statements from Pasolini himself, which come to dictate the film’s trajectory and kick start the eloquent summation of this man and what he stood for.

As Pasolini opens we find him being interviewed by a French reporter who has presumably just seen Pasolini’s last and most confounding film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. As the reporter queries Pasolini on numerous topics that naturally evolve from any viewing of Salò, Ferrara has the director pointedly spew forth a series of grand declarations, the kind that only a provocateur of his status could.

“To scandalise is a right; to be scandalised is a pleasure,” says Pasolini of the intended impact of his new film, as he denounces taking a public position of moralism in the next breath. Ferrara explores the sadomasochistic tendencies of Pasolini’s persona throughout his film, as any good biographer should, by illustrating both his reactions to his public perception and his lurid private life; a choice that would unfortunately lead to his brutal demise. Yet the most impressive part of Pasolini derives from another segment of diatribe that Pasolini delivers in this early sequence when he states “there’s nothing that isn’t political”.

Ferrara hones in on this assertion of blunt truth throughout Pasolini, as he stuffs his film with symbols and signifiers that act as tribute to Pasolini’s legacy as well as his scrambled but powerful ideologies. Throughout Pasolini, Ferrara gleefully jumps between the minutiae of Pasolini’s day – with visits from a friend recently back from Croatia and interviews with journalists being of particular delight – and into segues of books recently written and films yet unfilmed, all with a penchant for curiosity and psychoanalysis.

As Ferrara shows us actual manifestations of Pasolini’s book for instance, one that contains a character he despises, we bear witness to a focal point of Pasolini’s disdain as we watch a bourgeois political figure glide around an aristocratic ballroom only after seeing him give head to a handful of young men in a dark, cold field just before. Hypocrisy and absurdity are Pasolini’s game, and Ferrara has sculpted a film that bears the fruits of the great thinker’s labour.

Never is this clearer than in the dream like visions of the film Pasolini was to make next, reputedly called Porno-Teo-Kolossal, a bizarre vision of a Messiah myth where the central characters embark on an odyssey that promises them paradise and leaves them with nothing. The star in the sky that leads them to nowhere shines brightly on Pasolini’s nihilism here more than anywhere else.

As Pasolini himself Willem Dafoe is stunning, a pointed yet laconic performance that speaks to the director’s casual confidence. Even though his face almost always lies behind a pair of chic sunglasses, Dafoe is effortless in his portrayal, a fact that leads one to believe that even Pasolini himself would find the decision most agreeable.

The real star here though is Ferrara, a most controversial director himself, who obviously shares some kinship with Pasolini, a genius who lies on society’s fringes and sometimes in its gutters. Pasolini sticks closely to the provocateur’s principles and ends up a testament to his spirit, artistic pursuit and intellect. It isn’t a pulpit in the traditional sense, but it’s mining of the soul of Pasolini over his actions makes it more powerful than any simple soapbox could ever be.

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