The death of the brilliant Italian film director Pier Paulo Pasolini is something of a JFK moment in Italian culture; conspiracy theories abound as to the circumstances that led to his body being found, murdered, apparently run over by his own car. Without delving too deeply into the mystery, this film is less a biopic than a restaging of the last days of his life, and the result skews towards those who know the man and his remarkable, controversial canon of work.
Driller Killer’s Abel Ferrara is not a director knows for his great sensitivity; films like Bad Lieutenant or Welcome to New York make a virtue of their brutality, but he shows considerable skill in marking out this sympathetic portrait of a creative mind at the end of its tether. As played with customary precision by Willem Dafoe, Pasolini is shown somewhat spent after the catharsis of making Salo in 1975, and while explanations for his demise are offered, no firm solution transpires.
One of the novelties of Ferrara’s film is that it evokes colourful scenes from a film Pasolini planned, but never got to make. This allows for the presence of some Pasolini regulars including Ninetto Davoli, adding to the authenticity, and Pulp Fiction’s Maria de Mederios captures the elan of Pasolini’s great muse Laura Betti; perhaps this film aims for a niche audience, but that’s no bad thing.
Rather than a biopic, Pasolini offers a concise portrait of the artist as a middle aged man, short of love, but still burning with questions that would not be answered in his too-short lifetime. It’s certainly a subject that brings the best out of both director and star, and is recommended to those who want to know more about the director’s turbulent end.