Director: Abel Ferrara.
Starring: Willem Dafoe. France/Belgium/Italy 2014. 84 mins.
Milana Vujkov, Marketing Manager at The Gate, previews this week’s Discover Tuesdays title.
In his exquisitely crafted portrait of the legendary Italian filmmaker, Abel Ferrara has achieved a most peculiar, almost occult phenomenon. His film is inherently tied to the essence of cinema, the consummate doppelgänger of our earthly existence. By conjuring images of the final 24 hours in the life of Pier Paolo Pasolini, in all their sacred ordinariness, as if the subject himself was guiding the camera, Ferrara is free to divulge his own intimacies. The interior worlds of both directors are revealed in one long silver thread of poetic thought.
This transference of soul material was clearly meticulously planned. Willem Dafoe is cast as the martyred filmmaker. His angular features and saintly gaze, inner steadiness, enlightened pragmatism and softness of touch all mirror Pasolini’s complex nature, one that made him such a singular figure of the times. Pasolini left a legacy of some of the most unique images of humanity’s turmoil seared in our collective retinas.
Pasolini’s idiosyncratic symbiosis of esoteric Christianity and organically formed Communism, so effortlessly fluid and interchangeable, was also the source of most of his frictions with both society at large and his comrades in arms. His openly gay lifestyle was a dangerous mission in 1970s Rome, one that ended his extraordinary life if we are to believe what we are told.
Everything in Pasolini is a precisely orchestrated ritual – from his mother’s embrace in the morning to the deadly cruise on the fatal night. This film is a chamber piece, a series of oil paintings, a luminous visual poem leading us through the final verses of the life of the poet – the studio, the interview, the family dinner. We see a mix of tradition and bohemia, memories of erotic moments that formed him, drinks with friends, the nightly yearnings, but most importantly, the daily creation of a parallel life – the trajectory of art, in all its eternal childlike wonder.
At its most sublime, this work creates films within a film, pockets filled with riches, from the macabre dance of the Roman beaux monde to Dionysian images populated by beautiful beings. Pasolini’s beloved long-time partner, collaborator and friend, Ninetto Davoli, is master of ceremonies.
The film’s dense silences; the light reflecting in Dafoe’s black opal eyes; waves of impending doom closing in on Pasolini; the invocation of claustrophobic settings prophesising the tomb; his final words uttered to the journalist and writer Furio Colombo, hands covered in ink: “We are all in danger”; they all speak of an earthly finality.
Yet the exuberant imaginations of Pasolini and Ferrara celebrate the breathtaking radiance of unprocessed reality: a state most precious to both filmmakers, and a sanctuary from the relentless, gladiatorial, devastatingly artificial desires of a consumerist society. Pasolini’s emphatic statement that he was simply a writer has been divinely, and ironically, transmuted in time. We now know that he was a prophet.
And Ferrara has created a masterpiece.
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