“Narrative art, as you all know, is dead. We are in a period of mourning. Mine is not a tale, it is a parable. The meaning of this parable is precisely the relationship of an author to the form he creates.”
Pasolini is about the artist at work. Pier Paolo Pasolini has just released the socially upsetting Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) and will soon be tragically murdered. The biopic – functioning more as poetic tone piece – traces Pasolini’s final day of studious work. It unfolds in three layers: the pornography of his film; the refined intellect of his written word; and the nature of the life he lived.
This trifold presentation blends seamlessly into the nature of the man. It follows the cues of Flaubertian logic – to be “regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” It’s the idea both Pasolini and his bio’s director, Abel Ferrara, best embody. Tasked with a significant role, Willem Dafoe flourishes as the subject, at home behind his Italian typewriter, less at home in front of a journalist. The auteur can document the course of his own life without the help of the media and through the extreme radicalization of his work.
A madman behind the camera and a gentleman in front of his keyboard, Dafoe’s Pasolini spends his final day immersed in his work. The quiet confidence is surprising from Ferrara. Pasolini and his family are living life and we get those great moments so rarely filmed, the things that are important about a person’s life: the Italian food shared with family, their methods of writing, how a person really lives and not just what their art suggests they would do. And so, it is the most sobering biopic. Hued in jaundiced Italian yellows, his life of political modernity stands next to the ageless sculptures and buildings that history produced. An artist living among the arts. The most radical thing Ferrara has ever done might be his confidence to let Dafoe live the character and to film it how it is.
The tragedy is inherent here. Pasolini is brutally murdered – as the story goes, for his sexuality. This is the dangerous part of his life. He roams the poor Italian streets for easy men. He finds them in bars and on street corners. His gunmetal gray Alfa Romeo stands as the ultimate symbol of his tough, refined sexuality. This night, he picks up the wrong man, and tragically, his throat is run over by his own car.
A stark meditation of the artist, Pasolini is a cleanly shot work with a soft lensed focus. It compels the viewer to consider the auteur as one of the great lost voices of the cinema. Ferrara convinces us of his own stature, too, his ability to capture something without any judgment. He can go from flowing prose to matter of fact gay intercourse and it reads as totally the same: the mechanical expression of the purest form. Kino Lorber has granted the film an overdue American release, five long years after its initial premiere. It remains an important portrait of the artist at work. “As Pasolini notates from behind his typewriter, “I am a form, the knowledge of which is illusion.”