|Willem Dafoe as Pier Paolo Pasolini / Kino Lorber|
I think to scandalize is a right, to be scandalized is a pleasure, and
those who refuse to be scandalized are moralists.--Pier Paolo Pasolini
Okay, Pasolini isn't all that scandalous, but I still love that quote.
From its velvety opening frames, in which his subject speaks slowly and thoughtfully to a radio interviewer, Abel Ferrara's 20th feature film feels like something the Italian-American iconoclast was born to make.
It isn't just because it's so visually appealing, with an emphasis on deep browns and soft golds, but because Ferrara's affection for his subject never curdles into uncritical fawning. That may have something to do with his own experience as the controversy-generating auteur of boundary-pushing films like Ms. 45 (a nun with a gun), Bad Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel as the man Frank Serpico warned you about), and The Driller Killer, a so-called video nasty banned in the United Kingdom for 15 years.
|Keitel and Frankie Thorne in Bad Lieutenant / Lionsgate|
After introducing the Pasolini of 1975, Ferrara launches into the first of several cuts to scenes from his unfinished books and films, in addition to clips from his Marquis de Sade adaptation, Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom, first released only three weeks after his death--and still the go-to reference when seeking the most Bosch-like cinematic experience to date.
If Ferrara had made this portrait earlier in his career, he might have taken a more jacked-up or scandalous approach, but like Gus Van Sant's Last Days (2005), a ruminative re-imagining of the solo-driven hours leading up to Kurt Cobain's suicide, he mostly focuses on Pasolini's last days on Earth: talking to a journalist, dining with friends, and picking up a hustler.
Since Dafoe turned 63 this year, I worried that he might be too old for the role, but he looks young enough to pass for a 53-year-old. Then again, though the film is just opening theatrically in the United States, it was completed five years ago…but I didn't realize that while watching. In 2014, contributors to Indiewire's Best Undistributed Films list voted it in at #8.
Furthermore, according to Variety, Dafoe "lives in Rome, is married to Italian filmmaker Giada Colagrande, and speaks fluent Italian." Midwest provenance aside, he was born to star in Pasolini as much as Ferrara, who scripted with Matteo Garrone associate Maurizio Braucci (Gomorrah), was born to make it. I just wish there was more to it. At 85 minutes, it feels as if it's just getting started and then, the next thing you know: it's over.
Sometimes art really does imitate life--however, unintentionally.
Pasolini plays Grand Illusion Cinema from June 28 through July 3.