I can't help but feel that being hailed in Europe as a major auteur unrecognised in his own country has been bad for Abel Ferrara. The maverick New Yorker seemed to start taking himself far too seriously as a director after the heartfelt mystical meditation of 2005's Mary. Pasolini is the dead end to which that acclaim has brought him: a mythification of the misunderstood, controversial artist as prophet and visionary, encapsulated in the retelling of infamous Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini's last day living in 1975. (It could be called 1975: Last Day on Earth.)
Even though the film isn't necessarily clear about it, the fact that Pasolini was a long-gestating project dear to Mr. Ferrara certainly suggests that the director sees himself in the Pasolini mould, both being uneasy, misunderstood filmmakers in constant struggle against the world. That Mr. Ferrara is unable to build Pasolini's last day into more than a mythified and mystifyingly superficial portrait, a sort of "print the legend"/"paint by numbers" illustration of the Roman director's attitude to life, is proof enough of his half-hearted, misguided approach to the tale.
In underlining the prescience of Pasolini's thinking about the modern world and his urgent appeal to resistance against the dumbing-down of society, in attempting to reconcile that vision with the outlandish allegory of Porno-Teo-Kolossal (the project Pasolini was working on that never came to fruition and that is here visualized in part, as a film-within-the-film), Mr. Ferrara only widens the chasm that separates both directors. His own work has always been more earthen and impulsive, its transgression coming more from an intuitive place than Pasolini's more intellectual, thoughtful approach; that is probably why Pasolini resolves itself in a series of half-hearted vignettes or tableaux that dutifully check a number of boxes but get us nowhere closer to understanding him.
Not through any fault of Mr. Dafoe's extraordinary incarnation of Pasolini, it must be said; just through the earnestness of the film's attempt to peruse the facts and distill them into the essence of his legacy, but without ever really touching his humanity of the man. The Pasolini seen here is not a living person; merely a legend, and one whose unexpected tragic death has left him an inaccessible mystery even though so much has been written and said about him. Mr. Ferrara rehashes what we already knew and does so in a quaintly half-hearted way, without the energy of his best moments.
Italy, France, Belgium 2014
Cast Willem Dafoe, Ninetto Davoli, Riccardo Scamarcio, Valerio Mastandrea, Roberto Zibetti, Andrea Bosca, Giada Colagrande, Damiano Tamilia, Francesco Siciliano, Luca Lionello, Salvatore Ruocco, Adriana Asti, Maria de Medeiros
Director Abel Ferrara; screenwriter Maurizio Braucci; based on an idea by Mr. Ferrara and Nicola Tranquillino; cinematographer Stefano Falivene (colour); designer Igor Gabriel; costumes Rossano Marchi; editor Fabio Nunziata; producers Conchita Airoldi, Thierry Lounas and Joseph Rouschop; production companies Capricci Films in co-production with Urania Pictures, Tarantula, Dublin Films, ARTE France Cinéma and Belgacom
Screened November 2nd 2014, Lisbon (Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival advance streaming screener)