Who knew that Abel Ferrara, director of The Driller Killer, would be that to bring us a document on poet, activist, screenwriter and director Pier Paolo Pasolini? Pasolini was a man whose life seemed almost destined for the big screen treatment, who knew it would have been by New York’s Enfant Terrible?

Re-uniting with, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, star Willem Dafoe Ferrara seeks to recreate the final twenty four hours of Pasolini’s life. It seems in this context knowledge of Ferrara is just as important as Pasolini’s.Ferrara started directed the films in the late 70s making schlocky, gore-horrors like The Driller Killer before focusing on crime in his home city of New York with King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, dealing with metaphysical issues inherent in crime before ending up in Italy and creating films such as Welcome to New York with Gerard Depardieu – basically playing Dominique Strauss Kahn. A man who revels in the dark side of the human psyche when dealing with drugs, crime or capitalism. So perhaps he is not a million miles away from Pasolini himself – a socialist poet who was devoted to showcasing the horror of the human condition and how affected the world around him.

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What is shocking then is what an ultimately banal film Pasolini is then. Set over the final 24 hours of the directors life, he is on the campaign trail for his latest release; the infamous Salo or 120 Days of Sodom. The notion of a of a film about Pasolini immediately conjures the image of incendiary images, strident political views and unsettlingly views on the world around us. What Ferrara instead gives us is probably his safest film in years.

Dafoe puts in an anguished performance as Pasolini. Presenting us with a man who looks forlorn at every aspect of life, right down to whether he should order an espresso, his interpretation makes it almost unbelievable the man himself could order a coffee without swooning in terror. The performance since  based entirely on Pasolini’s writings as a poet which were given to flights of terror given the state of Italy at the time but Ferrara and Dafoe chose to present him as a man constantly biting his nails. This seems to go against what is known of the man as a staunch and outspoken activist.

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Pasolini is a film made up of discussion on about the notion of personal values and identity from the Ferrara’s point of view of the artist. Perhaps there’s something to be applauded in this approach to storytelling, to have a film made up of an artist discussing things, but it makes for a very dull affair. Elsewhere the film’s narrative is intercut with excerpts from Pasolini’s final script – an unreleased telling of the second coming of Christ which in Ferrara’s hand of interpretation revels in orgy and a middle aged man look on like an idiot savant, saying that though perhaps the film was always destined to turn out that way.

Pasolini, the film’s ultimate gambit is presenting his never explained death as, seemingly, an act of violence against a homo-sexual encounter with a young man. A never solved crime Ferrara chooses to give his imprint on the tragic scene despite there never being much conclusive evidence as to why the man was killed. Ultimately Pasolini is a work of passion for both director and star. A fine effort is made by both men – there is little to fault in Dafoe’s performance – but Pasolini seems like a film that would have disappointed it’s namesake. Safe, stylish without charm and kind of boring a rewatch of Salo is due by all.

 

3 / 5

 

Dir: Abel Ferrara

Scr: Maurizio Braucci

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ninetto Davoli

Prd: Fabio Massimo Cacciatori, Thierry Lonas

DOP: Stefano Falivene

Country: France/Belgium/Italy

Year: 2014

Run time: 84 mins

 

Pasolini is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now via the BFI.