Posted on 10.3.14: Abel Ferrara‘s Pasolini, screening this evening at the New York Film Festival, is about the last day or so in the life of the noted visionary Italian filmmaker — a brilliant writer and impassioned artist, upscale and refined, incredibly hard-working, the maker of one of the most rancid and perverse films of all time…and a guy with a thing for low-class, curly-haired boys. And an inclination on some level to flirt with danger.
Ferrara is obviously in awe of Pasolini’s artistic bravery (or obstinacy) and has captured some of his visions and dreams by depicting portions of Pasolini’s “Petrolio,” a meandering unfinished book he was writing, and has depicted his violent death with a certain raw power but…how to best say this?…I was faintly bored by some of it. Not dead bored — it’s an intelligent, earnestly presented film about an interesting man — but my fingers were tapping on the tabletop. Too many shots are murky or underlit…not Gordon Willis dark but “you can’t see shit” dark.
I actually loved Ferrara’s capturing of three scenes from Porno-Teo-Kolossal, a film Pasolini intended to make as a follow-up to Salo, The 120 Days of Sodom. And Willem Dafoe‘s performance as Pasolini is arresting — he obviously looks the part, and for whatever reason I didn’t mind that Dafoe and almost everyone else speaks English the entire time. And I love the way he pronounces “bourgeoisie” as “BOOJHwahzEE.”
But it’s finally a mercurial film aimed at Pasolini devotees. I agree with Variety‘s Peter Debruge that “it’s not fair to require audiences to know Pasolini’s ‘Petrolio'” — if you haven’t done your homework some portions of Ferrara’s film will throw you blind. But it’s lively and unfamiliar and anything but sedate. It’s not so bad to be faintly bored; it also means that you’re somewhat engaged. I’m glad that I saw it. It has portions that work. My vistas have been somewhat broadened.