Friday, October 03, 2014

"Pasolini" -- Movie Review

This week, I attended another screening at The New York FilmFestival:  the U.S. premiere of “Pasolini”, a drama about Pier Paolo Pasolini; it stars Willem Dafoe in the title role and is directed by Abel Ferrara. 

Will a noted Italian artist be able to continue his work unobstructed or will his political views and lifestyle choices risk both his career and his life?

By the mid-1970’s, poet, novelist and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (Dafoe) was an internationally famous artist – or internationally infamous artist, depending on your perspective.  Fearlessly outspoken in his political views and in his art, he was controversial in both his personal and professional life.  Openly gay, Pasolini enjoyed cruising areas of Rome for young men who worked as prostitutes; as if this alone was not sufficiently dangerous, he expressed in interviews that he was concerned his views had the potential to get him in trouble as there were politically-motivated assassinations being carried out throughout Italy during this time. 

Reviled by many for his sexually explicit motion picture “Salò”, Pasolini is nevertheless proud of his work and stands by what he has produced; “I make films in order to express myself”, he tells one interviewer.  Considered by many to be a major intellectual force of his time, Pasolini stays busy writing as well as giving speeches and doing extensive reading – both novels (for pleasure) and newspapers (to stay abreast of the nation’s volatile current events).  Visiting family and friends, he becomes inspired to make his next motion picture and enthusiastically shares it with acquaintances over dinner. 

One night when taking a break from his work, Pasolini gets an urge for some companionship.  Jumping into his car, he heads for one of the seedier sections of town where male prostitutes are known to congregate.  Pasolini meets an attractive young man whom he takes to dinner.  After the meal, they get into Pasolini’s car and drive to the beach for their tryst.  Once there, they are discovered by a gang of thugs who threaten Pasolini.  Will he somehow be able to figure out a way to defend himself and escape the threat, or is this confrontation take a bad turn?

It is hard to know where to begin when discussing “Pasolini”:  on the one hand, I have to admit to being ignorant about the work of the film’s subject, so I appreciated the opportunity of being introduced to this artist (I’m particularly interested in checking out his motion picture “Salò”, since it has consistently been considered one of the most controversial movies ever made).  On the other hand, this picture is rather undisciplined and lacks focus; whether the fact that it is all over the place reflects the personality of its subject or its director is unclear, but it’s a challenging movie to watch and its narrative could’ve been substantially improved. 

Why cast Dafoe in the title role?  He’s not Italian, nor does he play the role either speaking Italian or speaking English with an Italian accent.  While Dafoe is a fine actor and he does the best job possible with the supplied material, it appears that the main reason for his casting is due to the fact that he bears a strong resemblance to Pasolini; add to this Ferrara’s exploiting Dafoe – an actor known to Americans – in a movie about someone relatively obscure in this country and that makes the decision more understandable.  Regarding the choice of language in the film, “Pasolini” vacillates from Italians speaking English, Italian or sometimes French; this is distracting almost to the point of being infuriating (English subtitles are provided when warranted).
Following the screening was an interview with Ferrara and Dafoe.  This may have turned out to be more entertaining than the movie itself because an argument broke out between an audience member and the cantankerous director.  While Dafoe was predictably reticent, Ferrara basically hijacked the interview from the moderator and pretty much overwhelmed the discussion, insisting that he only wanted questions from the audience if they didn’t already know the answers (!).  The argument broke out when the filmgoer asserted Ferrara had presented a factually inaccurate portrayal of Pasolini’s death; a feisty Ferrara maintained the scene was merely his interpretation of the death and that the individual who objected didn’t have a firm grasp of all the facts himself. 
Pasolini (2014) on IMDb

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