Abel Ferrara returns to form with a bold biopic of the titular filmmaker
The last days of revered Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini are the subject of Abel Ferrara’s intense drama, which takes a fragmentary but analytical approach to the great man’s life. A well-cast Willem Dafoe dons the trademark tinted spectacles and leather jacket to depict the filmmaker both in public and at home, while Ferrara also dramatises a few scenes from Pasolini’s idea for a wildly ambitious film.
Newcomers beware, this is a highly specialised film that demands prior knowledge of the subject, with Ferrara making no attempt to bring up to speed or engage those unfamiliar with Pasolini’s life. An opening scene shows Pasolini screening his controversial final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom to a journalist and discussing his philosophy of filmmaking. In quick contrast, we see his animalistic joy in fellating a gang of youthful strangers in the countryside, and then his warm domestic life, living in thrall to his mother Susanna (Adriana Asti) and receiving a colourful guest in the form of his muse Laura Betti (Maria de Medeiros).
Despite his teasing indications that he might reveal who killed Pasolini in 1975, Ferrara’s final scenes don’t engage specifically with any of the multitude of conspiracy theories that surround the brutal murder, and perhaps that’s the reason that the film was perceived as an anti-climax when it premiered at 2014's Venice Film Festival. But, unlike his recent, sloppily decadent Welcome to New York, Ferrara is truly back on his best form here, pinning down the political climate of mid-70s Italy in detail. He also makes ingenious use of easily identifiable performers from Pasolini’s films, such as Asti and Ninetto Davoli, who stars in the odd film-within-a-film that reflects both Pasolini and Ferrara’s fierce interest in sex and religion.
Energised by a magnetic performance by Dafoe, Ferrara’s film is no normal biopic, benefiting considerably from being as unconventional and intellectually rigorous as the man it portrays.
Selected release from Fri 11 Sep.