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Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini' debuts at the Venice Film Festival

Scene from Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini', which takes up the last day in the life of Italy's greatest filmmakers.
Scene from Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini', which takes up the last day in the life of Italy's greatest filmmakers.La Biennale di Venezia, used with permission

Pasolini

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Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini' makes its international debut on Sept 4 at the Venice Film Festival that runs from Aug 27 to Sept 6 . It is part of Venezia 71, the official competition. The US filmmaker of Italian descent was recently misquoted as claiming he knew who murdered the late filmmaker author and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini in a Roman suburb in 1975. Willem Dafoe plays Pasolini and a sneak preview of the film was screened at the Cannes Market in May. Reliable sources claim that it is a strong contender for the Golden Lion of the Venice Festival. Reviews on the film are mixed, some claiming it is Ferrara's best to date, others at odds with the US filmmaker's fragmented story telling.

Willem Dafoe plays Pier Paolo Pasolini in Abel Ferrarra's 'Pasolini' in Venice lineup
Willem Dafoe plays Pier Paolo Pasolini in Abel Ferrarra's 'Pasolini' in Venice lineupLa Biennale di Venezia

The brutal murder of Pasolini has long been a source of tension since it is unclear exactly who was behind this execution style attack on one of Italy's most creative filmmakers. Ferrara's film devotes itself to this haunting enigma. Pasolini was anti-fascist, anti-communist, anti- religious and an outspoken artist. His openly gay lifestyle and his viewpoints published on the front page of the daily Italian newspapers made him a formidable figure in Italian culture. One theory of why he was killed was based on how his outspokenness angered Italian fascists. The other was in regards to his refusal to comply with extortionists who withheld the final rolls of his final film "Salo" (Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma, Italy 1975) an allegory about the final days of Italian fascists. Both theories are inextricably related, but were thrown out due to lack of evidence.

Pasolini was in concert with extremely talented people and those who follow his work, his actors, writers who translated his poetry, biographers, or composers of music to his creations were in San Francisco last September to honor his films at the Italian Cultural Institute in North Beach.

Ninetto Davoli was Pasolini’s favorite actor and closest friend, and the last one to see him before he died in 1975 (see photo display). He is featured in Ferrara's new film. Still a stunning looking man, Davoli's spirit, sense of humor, warmth and joy of life is contagious and he lights up the room whenever he speaks. It is no wonder that the late filmmaker and poet liked to be in his company. Davoli shared with the San Francisco audience that his work in "Canterbury Tales" (1972) where he plays a happy go lucky unemployed comic was praised by Charlie Chaplin, whose daughter Josephine was in this film. He said it was an honor he still remembers today. Davoli explained that he had no interest in acting but hung around one of Pasolini’s films on location and their friendship began. His first non-speaking role was in “The Gospel According to St Matthew"(1964). He was cast opposite the famous Italian comedian Totò in “Hawks and Sparrow” (1966) at the age of 18 and later was a lead actor in Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life”. Today Davoli works primarily in Italian television.

Also in San Francisco last September was Barth David Schwartz (interview for Movie Magazine International) who wrote a brilliant and definitive biography of Pasolini – “Pasolini Requiem” in the 90s. He lived in Italy during the time the book was written and traveled to Stockholm which Pasolini visited a few days before his death in 1975. At the time there was discussion about Pasolini as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Schwartz’s treatment of Pasolini's life is impeccable. While in San Francisco he attacked the Newsweek headline in 1975 “Life Imitating Art” announcing the death of Pasolini and the tragic circumstances leading to his murder. Pino Pelosi was convicted of the brutal attack ( the case was reopened in 2005 after Pelosi claimed his confession was coerced under threat of violence to his family). His lawyer argued that the imagery in Pasolini’s last film “Salò” (1975), an allegory on Nazism and Fascism in Italy from 1944-45, proved that he was violent and had instigated his own attack. Schwartz speaks about the trial in this interview. Quite the contrary, Schwartz said that he was full of life and already has several projects in the wings including a film on one of the most complex writers of the gospel of Saint Paul where Ninetto Davoli would play the lead (scenes from this will be screened in Ferrara's film). Ninetto also exuberantly spoke of Pasolini’s zest and vitality and added that those who didn’t know him shouldn’t share their theories of what his life was about. Davoli's appearance in Abel Ferrara's 'Pasolini' would appear to validate its production.

Two local Pasolini experts were also guests at the Pasolini event. Jack Hirschman, a San Francisco poet and social activist, compiled on anthology of Pasolini’s literary work, “In Danger” including the last interview of Pasolini before he died. Beverly Allen, guest lecturer in Comparative Literature at Stanford, is the author of "Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Politics of Heresy".

Pasolini’s extraordinary films include “Medea” with Maria Callas, “Teorema” with Terence Stamp, the “Trilogy of Life” –“Canterbury Tales”, “Decameron”, and “Arabian Nights” with Ninetto Davoli, “Mama Roma” with Anna Magnani, “Salò”, “Accatone”, “Hawks and Sparrows” , “Notes for an African Orestes”, and “Oedipus Rex” . There is probably no other filmmaker that has created such visually stunning and poetic magic on the screen than Pier Paolo Pasolini. Those who have studied his work and new converts to Pasolini's magnificent films are inspired by the avenues in which he chose to depict his subjects in film.

Pasolini wrote scathing reports in Italian newspapers about what he considered the new fascism of Italy: television, with its ability to create one middle class that shared the same values, a danger, he argued considering how easy it was to manipulate the masses for political gain. Pasolini also lamented the death of local dialects in Italy because of television. Pasolini often wrote in Friulian, a dialect in the area where his mother was born in Northern Italy.

The Pier Paolo Pasolini Museum in Casarsa della Delizia, Italy is located in the Pasolini home, “Casa Colussi” in Casarsa. It has been made into a small museum called the Center for Pasolinian Studies. The public funeral for Pasolini was held in Rome, but there is a smaller chapel where a ceremony was held in Casarsa - Santa Croce - with frescos depicting the Holy Cross by the Italian painter Pomponio Almateo (1505-1588). Pasolini is buried not far from the family home, next to his mother.