Abel Ferrara’s intense and exquisite account of the final hours of celebrated filmmaker and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini avoids the typical biopic trappings and cliches. Instead Ferrara utilizes a more fragmented, experimental, and even affectionate study of a man reaching the point of his demise while he’s in the peak of his creative endeavors.
Often biopics get overstuffed by trying to cover every aspect of its subjects life, yet Ferrara examines the beauty of creation, and how creation can instantly decay along with its creator. All around Pasolini was a frustrating man who held a lot of panic and deep anxieties about society around him, and he used art to express his worldviews. The Italian auteur was a devout Marxist, a atheist that just ironically made the most graceful biblical film about Jesus Christ ever created with his 1963 masterpiece “The Gospel According to St. Matthew”, he also directed such art-house classics as “Mama Roma”, “The Canterbury Tales”,”Arabian Nights” in which Miguel Gomes (Tabu) went onto to re-interrupt, “Teorama”, and of course the infamous “Solo, or 120 Days of Sodom”.
All around “Pasolini” echoes Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days”, that also followed the demise and decay of the last remaining day of an artists life, yet where Van San’t “Last Days” manifested the death of Kurt Cobain that felt alienating and equally liberating for Michael Pitt’s character of Blake, who was a interpretation of Cobain, Ferrara explores just how rewarding the daily mundane can be for an artist who is overwhelmed by their own creative energy and anxieties.
There is something truly unique and rewarding about Ferrara’s biopic here. Like Pasolini himself, Ferrara refuses to use a play-by-the-numbers biopic that often become self-parodies. Willem Dafoe plays the iconic auteur, as in his final day of his life he discusses ideas for his next novel titled “Petrolio” as he types and sorts out the structure and execution. His book is certainly a reflection in how feels about sexual repression, socio-economics, and the deep depivide between the wealthy and the poor. He reviews edited footage of ‘Salo” and gives some suggestions to his editor.
Fererra also explores his daily connections with people, including small exchanges with family and friends, playing soccer with local villagers, an interview with a reporter, and Ferrara never feels Pasolini has to defend his art while subtly making commentaries about the moralization of his controversial art. There is a point during the interview where Pasolini claims everything is a vacuum to the same corporate entity that enslaves us all.
It’s also commending how Ferrara never foreshadows or uses any build-up to his sudden murder, even a visually sublime moment includes Pasolini picking up a young male prostitute as they go out for dinner before going to a beach where his murder occurs. To this day, the reasons and evidence of his death remain mysterious. Some believe it was a hate crime, others believe it was part of a larger conspiracy. There was an infamous debate where Pasolini claimed television was unhealthy for the mind in that just happened to air the day of his murder.
Ferarra doesn’t so much deign Passolini’s final day living, and while he may heighten the alienation Passolini endured. Farrera along with script writer Maurizio Braucc understands the voice represented by Pasolini’s life and the mystery his life left behind, in which we see Ferarra’s interpretation of Passolini’s imagination. Abel Ferarra gets deep inside Pasolini’s creative psyche by showcasing unfinished writings, with rich narratives in which characters continue to say “There is never an end”, to emphasize the immortality of art. To this date great artists live on. It is essential to have a film like this come out and emphasize, or rather deconstruct an alternative artistic misfit attempting to find joy that allows the viewer to find empathy in his daily routines. Just as Sergio Leone never got to see his completed vision with “Once Upon a Time in America”, it is tragic to think Pasolini never got to see the very final cut of Salo or attend his premiere screening, a film that holds a strong reputation today.
Dafoe is exceptional once again as Pasolini, by making the performance more of an experiment, Dafoe splices pieces of dialogue with different dialects that merges his soft-spoken nature that collides with the self-image of Pasolini being a non-conformist. While Ferrara tries keeping the Pasolini tradition by creating his own controversial and edgy imagery, he ends up finding great beauty during these creative interpretations. It took 5 years for this film to be released after being stuck in distribution hiatus since 2014, I recall hearing about this film on the festival circuit back then. Possibly its difficult to find a wide audience interested in the art-house filmmaker, intellectual, writer, poet, critic, and artist. Audiences looking for something more conventional will be frustrated by the fragmented structure, yet viewers familiar with the auteur will find this film to be a rewarding tribute.