Abel Ferrara raised a number of eyebrows when he claimed that he knew who was responsible for the murder of director/writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, a man he just so happened to be making a film about. Pasolini generated plenty of controversy in his heyday with films like “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom” and “Teorema,” but right now the biggest disagreement about Ferrara’s “Pasolini” is whether or not its impressionistic approach to the biopic and Pasolini’s final 24 hours is effective.
At Venice, Tommaso Tocci of The Film Stage and Robbie Collin of The Telegraph praised the film, with the latter calling it “subtle and seductive,” praising the performance of Willem Dafoe as Pasolini and the choice to cast Pasolini’s real-life muse/lover Ninetto Davoli (played in the film by Riccardo Scamarcio) in a minor role. Catharine Bray, on the other hand, called the film overwrought, while David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter found its ideas about Pasolini incoherent. Not quite as divisive as “Salo,” but it’ll do for the moment.
Catharine Bray, HitFix
This is biopic-as-arthouse-collage, strictly for those willing to dive headfirst into an immersive, bitty, talky, messy and bold scrapbook of Pasolini’s final days. It has the quality of a sense-memory or dream. It is the opposite of forensic. Enjoyable in places, I wish it cohered a bit more. Oh, and that there was less opera: the score screeches and wails to a level verging on parody…It’s hard to imagine the family will be that happy with the loose, impressionistic result of Ferrara’s efforts, which doesn’t add much to the debate, even as it ably showcases part of Pasolini’s appeal. Read more.
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph
Davoli plays a bluff, middle-aged clown who follows a shooting star from his cramped apartment in Rome to the city of Sodom, where the population are divided into gay and lesbian sects who come together, once a year, to procreate under a firework-filled sky. The sequence is joyous, like something out of Pasolini’s own Trilogy of Life – and Ferrara stages it with an extraordinary, nuanced feel for the Pasolini style without straying close to pastiche. Even the use of the Congolese mass music, borrowed from Pasolini’s own “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” feels right and apt. Read more.
Jessica Kiang, The Playlist
We have no doubt that Pasolini lived an expansive life, both in the world and in his mind (and Dafoe’s performance communicates that vigor), but the attempt to locate some solace for the tawdry violence of his death feels untruthful. That coddling aim, to smooth the ruffled brow of scandal and to make a senseless death somehow worthwhile, feels to us like it runs wildly counter to everything that Pasolini stood for. Practically the first thing we hear him say is that “there is nothing that is not political,” yet the political and social ramifications of his death, theorized here as the result of a hate crime in a society he believed was eating itself alive with corruption and consumerism, are abandoned in favor of some spiritual cold comfort. Read more.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter
Willem Dafoe bears an uncanny resemblance to Pier Paolo Pasolini, so casting him as the poet, filmmaker, essayist and political agitator, who remains a controversial cultural figure in Italy almost 40 years after his brutal murder, was a brilliant stroke. But Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini” is otherwise a film that’s more interesting in theory than achievement. It was a given that this meeting of two iconoclastic directors would yield something far more unfettered and instinctive than conventional bio-drama. But the result borders on incoherence, providing few startling insights for aficionados and minimal illumination for the uninitiated. Read more.
Tommaso Tocci, The Film Stage
Such is the complexity of Pasolini’s character that tackling him head-on seems a futile endeavor. There are a million ways to portray him more thoroughly, with more respect, and better understanding of his supremely nuanced body of work. This is why Ferrara makes such a good match here: at his best, he can zoom in close, let a few screws loose, and give the thing a good shake without wrecking the whole film. He has the blasphemous, simplistic audacity to dramatize some of Pasolini’s unfinished materials and use their oblique appeal to balance the more intimate, introspective bits. Read more.