Following the last day of his life, Pasolini sees how great Italian poet, novelist and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini spent the hours leading up to his untimely death. Directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Willem Dafoe in the title role, this is a film that does not aim to analyse past events – it is not an interpretation of Pasolini’s life, but simply a reconstruction of his very last hours, seen through his eyes alone: from the moments he spent with his beloved mother and dearest friends, all the way up to the moment when he picked up a rent boy and unknowingly headed to his death.
Even with this premise, the film does not have a linear structure. The initial plotline is constantly interrupted (or, indeed, enriched) by a different story: scenes from Pasolini’s unfinished novel, Petrolio. As a result, the film does not feel like a traditional biopic, which was Ferarra’s aim. Willem Dafoe is perfectly cast as the controversial Italian director and it is really hard to find a fault in his performance. However, the decision to have him speak English throughout, while surrounded by an otherwise Italian cast, is quite dubious and makes for an inconsistent narrative.
Pasolini had a great influence on cinema as a whole. His last production, Salo, is still considered to be one of the most controversial films – he never shied away from scandal or explicit sexual imagery. So, it comes as no surprise that a film dedicated to him is rich in those components as well – there are a few (very graphic) scenes of sexual nature, which could easily shock the faint-hearted. Even Pasolini’s death was a controversial affair. However, instead of focusing on different theories surrounding it, the screenplay offers one simple, straight-forward, and very strong, final scene.
Even though the film was intended to be appropriate for people who are not familiar with Pasolini’s life, it does not manage to escape from that niche and still feels like a title that can only be appreciated by a select few. A lot of the hidden meanings and references to Pasolini’s life and work could be easily missed by the unfamiliar viewer. Truth is, while Dafoe shines through, there is something lacking in the film’s structure to make it fully memorable.
Pasolini is released nationwide on 11th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Pasolini here: