Like the work of Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini Abel Ferrara’s biopic is a succès de scandale in its investigation into the last few days of the director’s life. He is presented as a militant Marxist and surrealist writer, not afraid to shy away from putting the wilest fantasies of the Marquis de Sade on screen in his notorious Salo.
But there is so much more to Pasolini’s work than sheer shock and this film affirms his complexities: from seeking seriously dangerous sex to a homely family-orientated base. The Roman architecture is used cleverly in some stunning cinematography and we see the city at night too as Pasolini cruises the seedy streets for flesh.
There are post-modern moments with the narrative going from direct realism to surrealism and back again quite seamlessly. Whilst there is little explanation of this those of us who know Pasolini’s work will get many of the references, like to his unfinished last novel Petrolio and script for Porno-Teo-Kolossal.
In interview he comes across as an extreme radical but blames capitalism for making us all guilty victims. This conversation is particularly prescient given his ultimately untimely and inglorious death. One particularly controversial narrative is the notion that a new Messiah is to be born as a result of an LGBT orgy, which is depicted in sensuous detailed debauchery.
Willem Dafoe excels at his title role, cool, slick but with an underlying intensity, and Ferrara keeps a tempestuous pace whilst allowing for reflection too. If you don’t know Pasolini’s work this film will serve as a fascinating introduction. If you are more aware of the director’s oeuvre, then this will be a deeply moving experience in its sense of loss of a cinematic genius.
Plays at National Media Museum, Bradford, 18:00 on Tuesday 17 November see https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/National_Media_Museum/film/pasolini.