If you go in to Pasolini hoping to forge a greater understanding of eponymous director, then you’ll likely find yourself disappointed by the end result. Though the title suggests a concise study of the culturally ubiquitous and controversial figure, Abel Ferrara seems far more concerned with trying to mirror his auteur signature. The result is a film that pays homage, but fails to add any insight on the man himself.
The date is November 2, 1975 – another day in the life of Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Defoe). As he goes about lunching with friends and giving interviews to journalists, he’s also looking towards making his next project, having recently finished work on the highly inflammatory Salo (120 Days of Sodom). Unfortunately, the world would never get to see his next film, as the following morning Pasolini was found beaten to death on a beach near Rome.
Though his constant switching between the English and Italian languages is a bit bewildering, Willem Defoe still succeeds in perfectly incarnating the titular role. Naturally oozing Pasolini’s commanding air, Defoe effervesces the passion and confidence of an artist ingrained with a fearless vision for challenging people’s perceptions in powerful and provocative ways.
Unfortunately, no matter how much it tries, the film is unable to match the quality of Defoe’s performance. Throughout its meagre 85 minute running time, it’s hard to actually discern what the writer/director is trying to achieve with Pasolini. There’s no focus given to the film’s structure, it simply feels like an amalgamation of Ferrara’s creative tangents. His use of voiceover and the recreation of Pasolini’s final interview suggest an attempt to examine the bold beliefs that swirled around his mind. While the ever-growing sense of dread he builds during the shady final act, which culminates in the brutal reconstruction of Pasolini’s murder hint at a possible attempt to try and offer further insight in to this still mysterious crime.
Either pursuit would be laudable, but neither are explored in enough depth and detail to ever be effective. Where Ferrara does flourish however, is in his ability to pay respect to Pasolini’s unique and striking cinematic vision. Imagining scenes from Pasolini’s forthcoming manuscript, Ferrara effortlessly manages to recreate the hypnotic atmosphere of Pasolini’s finest works. Interweaving deliciously dark humour with a highly stylised, and of course sexually charged mise-en-scene, Ferrara revels in celebrating the astonishing work of his subject, even going so far as to douse it all in the light of fireworks.
It’s just a shame that he didn’t have as much interest in utilising Defoe’s superb performance to try and form a greater understanding of his subject. His film may shine when eulogising Pasolini’s work, but it fails to shine any sort of light on the man himself.