Friday, October 03, 2014

NY Film Festival: PASOLINI

On paper, it must have looked like the perfect concept: iconoclast director Abel Ferrara to helm a biopic of Italian Marxist writer, poet, novelist, film director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The great man to be played by Willem Dafoe, who not only bears an uncanny resemblance to Pasolini, but who has also played Christ as well as the Antichrist. With all these elements in the bag, even Pasolini, who nearly 40 years ago in 1975 was brutally murdered, would have given his atheist blessing to this project.

However, the results are far from perfect. Mr. Ferrara's film, entitled Pasolini, focuses on the man's last days, perhaps the most promising period of the director's life before it was cut short by his grisly murder, on a beach near Rome, hours after picking up a male prostitute. The film also recounts Pasolini's efforts to finish his avant-garde novel Petrolio, and Ferrara stages some of these scenes, including a harrowing jetliner crash. At the same time, Pasolini was preparing a new film to follow up the controversial Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. The film was to be called Porno-Teo-Kolossal, and Ferrara dreams up the most magical and satisfying sequences in the entire film, using actor Ninetto Davoli (Pasolini's former lover and life-long friend). Two characters, Epifanio (played by Davoli) and Riccardo Scamarcio (who plays the young Davoli) follow a star in the sky that promises that the Messiah has been born. The star takes them on a bizarre journey to Utopia, Sodom and Gomorrah where they witness an orgy in which gay men and women copulate for one night in order to procreate the species. The visual style tries to mimic Pasolini's cinéma vérité, and the effect works. As a matter of fact, these kaleidoscopic sequences are some of the few segments of the film that really take off.

The rest is pretty much a mixed bag. Ferrara's entire approach is to embrace randomness, and Mr. Dafoe is caught up in the director's net. His performance, memorable though it is, goes nowhere fast, and he is left with just an imitation of Pasolini. Further, unless you know something about Pasolini's life and the political events happening in Italy at the time of his murder, you will most likely be confused by the narrative. Ferrara is interested in creating vignettes from Pasolini's life, but these don't go anywhere, and the scenes end up confusing the viewer.

At Thursday night's showing at the New York Film Festival, Mr. Ferrara recalled when as a young man he first saw a film by Pasolini. It was The Decameron, and the director revealed that he admired how Pasolini seemed to be making the film up as the film unwound before your eyes. I'm sure that Mr. Ferrara was aiming to do the same here. But Pasolini was a genius, and he could get away with it. No such luck with Mr. Ferrara and his latest movie.

No comments: