It’s been nearly five years since Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini,” starring Willem Dafoe as murdered Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, made its debut at the Venice and Toronto International film festivals in 2014. Now, at last, it’s getting U.S. distribution: Kino Lorber has picked up North American rights to the film and has set its premiere for New York City’s Metrograph on May 10.
Ferrara will be showing a new documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival this April called “The Projectionist,” but his films have barely been seen in the U.S. over the past decade. In the ’90s, Ferrara established himself as a bad-boy auteur with “King of New York,” “Bad Lieutenant,” and “The Addiction.” But a reputation for being difficult has made it harder and harder for his films to get released.
A particular flashpoint in Ferrera’s career was “Welcome to New York,” his film inspired by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair, in which the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund was accused of rape by a New York City hotel maid. The sales agency Wild Bunch sold an R-rated cut of “Welcome to New York” to IFC Films, which Ferrara deplored because it cut 17 minutes and reordered key events — the original version’s explicit debauchery would have made it an automatic NC-17, though the director was pushing for an unrated release. In one widely circulated interview, he referred to the IFC release as “corporate assault” and called on filmmakers to burn down the IFC Center.
In light of his public battles over authorial intent and censorship, Ferrara likely found a kindred spirit in Pasolini, whose own films drew considerably controversy during his life for their urgent explorations of faith and sexuality. His final film, “Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom,” based on the Marquis de Sade’s book but set in the last days of the Fascist rump state that formed in the northern Italian town of Salo after the fall of Mussolini, was met with outrage for its graphic violence and degrading depictions of sexual violation.
Ferrara’s “Pasolini” looks at the last days of the director’s life following the release of “Salo” when he was looking to find his next project and cruising the streets of Rome looking for young hustlers to pick up. The official story is that he was then murdered by a male prostitute, though conspiracy theories have abounded that he was killed in a homophobic attack.
Dafoe’s portrayal of Pasolini will finally be seen right after his celebrated performance as Vincent Van Gogh in Julian Schnabel’s “At Eternity’s Gate,” which earned him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards. More recently, the actor has been filming a role in Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch.”
In a press release, Kino Lorber SVP Wendy Lidell said of the film that it’s “Not your average biopic, passion meets passion in this very provocative film. I cannot imagine a more perfect artistic pairing than Abel Ferrara and Willem Dafoe for the task of bringing to life the fiery intellect of the great Italian poet, philosopher and filmmaker, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Some audiences may be scandalized, but that is exactly what Pasolini would have wanted.”
“Pasolini” will be available on home video and VOD in fall 2019.