He had plans. The last shot of Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini leaves us in no doubt toward the plans Pier Paolo Pasolini had for the future. On his passport, his profession is simply “writer”.
A novelist, screenwriter, director and artist, Pasolini would express himself in whatever way he could access. Abel Ferrara’s film, screening at a limited number of cinemas across the country, depicts the final few days of Pasolini’s life before he was brutally murdered, his body left on the beach to be found in the morning. This tragic reality lingers throughout, as Pasolini discusses in interview and in conversation, his conflicts, challenges and desires.
The film opens on Salo or 120 Days of Sodom, his infamous final film, in the edit suite. Women are naked and men, fully clothed. A man unzips his fly, and we cut back to Pier Paolo himself. He is challenging us and refuses to be restrained. Back to Salo, and man and woman both crouch as the younger male chooses to sodomise the elder man – and we see the look of glee on his face. Then back to Pasolini in the edit suit. Returning from a book signing in Stokholm, Pasolini leads a different way of life. While one moment he is flying first class to Rome, the next he is waking up in a bed to his mother Susanne. She wakes him, hugs him, in much the same way a doting mum would with her child. Pasolini meets with filmmakers and a critic, writing letters and stories to excise his creative urges. We see him meet friends and family, and then commit to the fateful night that would end on a beach in Ostia in Rome.
Pasolini is much more than mere documentation (though this is part of the film). Ferrara ensures that he weaves together his writing and realises the thoughts and conflicts Pasolini was challenged with in those final moments. His story of an exquisite banquet and the room upstairs, whereby the host – and others – listen to a tale of an endless red desert is steeped in allegorical intrigue. Pasolini additionally talks of a Father and Son who follow a star and see an orgy of excess, and then walk the stairs to heaven to see the earth from afar. Pasolini is part dream and part reality. It toys with the notion of an artist and their process. It resurrects the tortured mind of so many artists.
Perhaps director Abel Ferrara (who has his own challenging catalogue of films to rival Pasolini) chose to direct this, as he understands the filmmaker himself. Often set amongst warm, mahogany rooms of a rich 1970’s Italian décor, Ferrara creates a sumptuous vision throughout. But Pasolini is not an easy film to watch, with an assumption that you know the director’s style and appreciate his methods. If you don’t, then the film can feel distant and difficult to grasp. Salo, as an example, is deeply grotesque, forcing you to reflect on Pasolini’s intentions – and whether it justifies the morbid story on screen. As an extension, Pasolini is considerably more restrained but its themes are slightly more accessible. Perhaps this surreal biopic would be best enjoyed as a finale after a season of watching Pasolini’s films, rather than a way into understanding his cinematic achievements