Friday, 20 November 2015


"To scandalize is a right, to be scandalized is a pleasure" - Pier Paolo Pasolini

In 1975, the highly controversial Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom was released. Due to its depiction of intensely graphic violence, sadism and sexual abuse being inflicted upon youths, it remains banned in several countries to this day – it was only granted an uncut release here in the UK in the year 2000. The director of Salò, Pier Paolo Pasolini, didn’t live to see all of this controversy – although he had his fair share when he was alive – because he was brutally murdered weeks before the film’s release. Who was he? Was he the sick, depraved man the media labelled him, or an artistic genius ahead of his time?

Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini, out now on DVD & Blu-Ray, attempts to show us. Willem Dafoe plays the eponymous director, increasingly opposed by the public for both his homosexuality and his scandalous, indecent films. But Pasolini isn’t necessarily a biopic, as such. Like Dylan Thomas film Set Fire To The Stars or the epic Lincoln, Pasolini chooses to focus on a small part of the subject’s life – in this case, his final day, delivering a wildly kaleidoscopic patchwork narrative structure. We watch as he meets with friends, collaborators and his mother (played by Adriana Asti, who starred in Pasolini’s Accattone in 1961) before meeting a young man whom he takes for dinner and a fateful trip to the beach which proved to be the end of the iconic director’s life. 

When Pasolini is delivered a straight biopic of the man, it’s an interesting watch. Pier Paolo Pasolini isn’t a director I’ve ever explored too deeply, but being a film enthusiast am always keen to learn about this sort of figure. Watching as he edits Salò or discusses the next film he planned to make, Porno-Teo-Kolossal, is interesting to see. But unfortunately, Abel Ferrara gets arguably a little self-indulgent here. With fantasy sequences aplenty and scenes of an imagined Porno-Teo-Kolossal, I was left wanting a more straight-forward biopic. Even in the short length of 80 minutes, Pasolini felt largely unfocused and aimless – especially when Willem Dafoe isn’t on screen, which was peculiarly quite a lot despite being the title ‘character’. Dafoe doesn’t do anything remarkable here but delivers a believable performance and, if nothing else, bears an uncanny resemblance to Pier Paolo Pasolini in his final years. But regardless of whether or not his performance is as memorable as it could be, the energy of the film drops considerably whenever he’s off screen. At the end of the day, the film is called Pasolini, we’re here to see him. When he wasn’t around, I found myself twiddling my thumbs and checking my watch until he came back.

This was clearly a passion project for the not-quite-equally controversial director Abel Ferrarra, but it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. The unfocused narrative and overly artistic fantasy malarkey just took me out of the film too much. I’m not saying it’s a bad film – from what I’ve read, critical and audience reception seems pretty mixed. Some share my view, some feel it’s one of the finest ‘biopics’ of recent years. I suppose that’s the whole point of cinema, and the critical divide is something Pasolini himself would be chuffed with.

But in conclusion, Pasolini was just an uncomfortable viewing experience – and not the Pasolini kind of uncomfortable, just the mediocre filmmaking kind of uncomfortable. Perhaps it would’ve been wiser to make a film based around the making of Salò – like Hitchcock, which is based around the making of Psycho – than this slightly wacky final days kind of film. Who knows…

Pasolini is an unusual take on an unusual story, but leaves a lot to be desired. 3/5.


Sam Love

Pasolini at CeX

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