A Violent Life

in 71st Venice International Film Festival

by Chiara Tognolotti

Pasolini was  able to see far away, tracing in the Italy of the Sixties and Seventies the hints of what the country would become a few decades later. He knew how to interpret the signs of a modernity too quickly reached and that would soon degenerate into a “development without progress”, as he used to say, in a petty and greedy accumulation of wealth that despised culture and forgot its  roots; he captured the barbarization of politics; he saw the progressive erosion of popular culture, eaten by bad television and crumbled further by bad teachers; and he always put himself into the discussion, body and soul, ending by losing it all in a fall night, November 2nd, 1975, on the Ostia beach, near Rome.

It  is precisely Pasolini’s last day alive that Ferrara chooses as the subject of his courageous yet uneven work, because the complexity of Pasolini’s figure remains largely outside the boundaries of the film. The plot is organized on two levels. The first follows Pasolini’s last hours: the dinner with Ninetto Davoli (played by a clumsy Riccardo Scamarcio), then the meeting with Pino Pelosi, the sexual intercourse, eventually the assault by a group of homophobic guys and the terrible death. Ferrara chooses not to explore the dynamics and the instigators of the homicide – that still remains a mystery: a controversial choice, since the film focuses precisely on those few, last hours of Pasolini’s life.

Anyway, the choice of Willem Dafoe as the protagonist is successful; not only for the physical resemblance, but mostly because the actor brings to the screen Pasolini’s scared gaze, often hidden behind dark glasses, his thin body, his shy and at the same time sharp gestures. Pasolini’s thought is conveyed by an interview he gave the afternoon before he died to Furio Colombo, a well-known journalist: in his words we read a shy man, yet ready to defend his anti-conventional choices, determined to defy the bourgeoisie with the scandal of his existence and of his desire. And very intense is the character of Pasolini’s mother as well, Susanna, to which Adriana Asti lends her deep, velvety eyes.

The second level of narration is less effective. Ferrara tries to translate into images some of the themes of the last, unfinished novel by Pasolini, Petrolio, focusing on Enrico Mattei (speaking of which it is impossible not to mention Francesco Rosi’s Il Casio Mattei) But it is extremely difficult to concentrate in just two sequences the figure of the manager, the complexity of the Italian politics of that period, Mattei’s still-mysterious death; the risk is that of a superficial, unelaborated description.

Just as questionable is the mise-en-scène of what should have been Pasolini’s last film, Porno-Teo-Kolossal. Ferrara works on the existing script  and recreates some sequences, giving to Scamarcio the role that Ninetto Davoli was supposed to play, whereas Davoli himself plays the character that Eduardo de Filippo was intended to embody. But if Davoli preserves his naiveté and lightness, again Scamarcio hesitates and does not convince; and the sequences recreated – an orgy in the imaginary city where the film takes place and the quest for an unreachable paradise – fall into the realm of the obvious, if not into that of the unlikely.

In conclusion, a wasted opportunity: with a more consistent script one could have taken advantage of Defoe’s very good qualities in order to trace a more intense portrayal of Pasolini. What we have is nothing more than a sketch, and one regrets the beautiful final of the first episode of  Moretti’s Caro diario (Dear diary), where the director, silent for once, rides on his Vespa along the seaside in Ostia, accompanied by a piano solo played by Keith Jarrett, in an incredibly long sequence shot that ends in the no man’s land where Pier Paolo was killed and where a monument dedicated to the poet is: a rotten and rusted construction, symbol of an Italy without memory that Pasolini had so often denounced, and that he, nonetheless, kept loving so deeply.

Edited by Derek Malcolm