Review: Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini

Resurrecting the Dead Director: Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini at York City Screen

Abel Ferrara’s portrayal of the last 24 hours of Pasolini’s life attempts to capture the controversial director through a snapshot of a seemingly trivial day, that comes to an abrupt and bloody end on the 2nd November, 1975. A narrative with a predestined conclusion, this film revolves around capturing an essence of the individual and strives to reverse the lens on the man behind the camera.

The cinematography, rather than being one entire and fluid elegy, is presented to the viewer in a fractured form as a series of smaller, flickering confined scenes. Indeed, it is perhaps more apt to describe this film as documentarian study of a man in the mundane and the daily banalities of family dinners, drinks with friends and work meetings. The jolting discontinuity between these scenes is contrasted by, and compensated with, an immense continuity within the scenes themselves. We get a sense of completeness in these separate moments, that there is a full embodiment of time itself. For instance, Ferrara’s long sequences of inaction create an opportunity of complete voyeurism for the viewer, where the audience can construct intimacy with the character through a sustained recognition of his subtle habits and body language. The scenes seem raw, where normal moments of human hindrances are not ironed out by reaching for the editing scissors, such as the moment when Willem Dafoe has a stuttering difficulty in opening the newspaper. It is these small idiosyncrasies that allow Ferrara to reconcile the tensions he creates in the film, balancing the impact of a predestined plot with moments of intense and sustained voyeurism and the raw, unfiltered cinematography with Ferrara’s own presence as the constructor of this reality.

This narrative is successfully orientated around the main narrative, the link being clear that this relates to the figurative construction of Pasolini’s next film

There were some moments in the film that one felt slightly less successfully reconciled. The use of soundtrack, for instance, although moving, is at times heavy handed. There seems to be an imbalance between when Ferrara opts for obtrusive silence in moments of realism, with the dream-like electronic music when Ferrara seems to abandon realism for abstract moments when the character is in a process of reflection. It is not just within the soundtrack that a sense of realism and abstract fantasy seem to fail to be smoothly balanced, but also in the abstract narratives that are to feed into Pasolini’s life. There are two subterranean narratives that accompany the overarching narrative of the director. One is an embodiment of Pasolini’s new idea for a film, where two men follow a star in the hope of paradise, until they realise that paradise itself does not exist. Within these moments, Ferrara successfully casts this figurative plot in the shadow of Pasolini’s style, attempting an abstract, esoteric narrative with unadulterated and shameless nudity and sex. This narrative is successfully orientated around the main narrative, the link being clear that this relates to the figurative construction of Pasolini’s next film. However, another narrative, one of a politician who hangs around local parks at night engaging in acts of sex with young men, is completely disorientated from the dominant Pasolini narrative. It is unclear how that story relates at all to the main plot. It is this imbalance between having one narrative that clearly relates to the dominant Pasolini narrative, and one which does not, that manifest to trouble the viewer. The inconsistencies between the abstract and the tangible is one that instead of challenging the viewer in a valuable way, creates a cloud of confusion and an obtrusive void of incompleteness in the film, negating from the film’s overall success.

We must recognise that the knowledge for the film itself is one of illusion

In spite of these slight structural shortcomings in the film, Ferrara’s work is an interesting and admirable attempt in resurrecting Pasolini from the grave. Willem Dafoe says in the film, ‘I am a form, the knowledge of which is illusion.’ This seems an appropriate summation of the film in its entirety. An accumulation of Dafoe’s uncanny likeness to Pasolini, Ferrara’s adoption of Pasolini-esque nudity and a portrayal of the suppressed human instinct, alongside with scenes of sustained cinematic intimacy, create the illusion of a complete snapshot of the director’s life. Yet, we must recognise that the knowledge for the film itself is one of illusion. The actual events surrounding Pasolini’s death remain unclear and cloudy. Was his death the result of a sexual liaison gone wrong? Or was it the result of his controversial politics that resulted in an assassination? It seems in this one quote that Ferrara is recognising the limitations of his own film, that somehow he is acknowledging that his work will inevitably be an illusion of Pasolini, something that he calls a ‘fictional event,’ but a valuable attempt nonetheless.

As always, the York City Screen provided a great setting for an evening out. The film is one of just a series of screenings in the exciting Discover Tuesdays season. With friendly staff, comfy seats and a great bar, the venue remains a valuable staple of the York culture film scene.