No standard study of a filmmaker. Abel Ferrara’s take on Pier Paolo Pasolini is something extraordinary.

As with the death of Marilyn Monroe, the killing on 2nd November 1975 of the Italian film director and author Pier Paolo Pasolini is an event still shrouded in mystery and the subject of a fog of conspiracy theories. This film by Abel Ferrara is set on the day of Pasolini’s death and that fact may have encouraged a belief that it would have some strong line, possibly revelatory, about what really happened. In fact it does not take that route and even eschews a straightforward narrative opting instead to use the events of that day to put us inside the mind of the fifty-year old gay filmmaker.
What has resulted is a unique film of considerable interest destined to disappoint those looking for something more conventional and arguably requiring some knowledge of Pasolini’s films if one is to get the most from it. Willem Dafoe, looking remarkably like Pasolini, takes the title role. Admirers of Italian cinema in Pasolini’s time will be interested to know that Adriana Asti, star of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution, is seen as Pasolini’s mother, while the role of Pasolini’s friend, the actress Laura Betti, is taken by Maria de Medeiros.


Film on film: Willem Dafoe as Pier Paolo Pasolini


But, while the film follows chronologically the events of 2nd November 1975, it also borrows words from actual interviews he gave to express Pasolini’s philosophical views and his distaste for what the world was becoming,. Also used here are letters written by Pasolini linked to his novel Petrolio and to a projected film entitled Porno-Teo-Kolossal. Ferrara goes on to create scenes from the film that never was and features in it Pasolini’s lover Ninetto Davoli. In addition he stages episodes from Petrolio not excluding explicit gay sex. Intercuts of this kind nevertheless lead us back to Pasolini’s last day and to a fatal encounter with homophobic youths. This is powerful, but so too are the final fantasy scenes from the unfilmed screenplay which, set on another planet, fruitfully deal in the religious elements that haunted Pasolini’s films. We can also ponder its open ending strangely reminiscent of the world of Samuel Beckett. Earth-bound once more, Ferrara’s film ends with memorable images geared to 3rd November 1975 before featuring an operatic aria sung by Pasolini’s Medea, Maria Callas. This remarkable endeavour may be of specialised appeal but the right audience will be fascinated.




Cast: Willem Dafoe, Ninetto Davoli, Riccardo Scamarcio, Adriana Asti, Maria de Medeiros, Valerio Mastandrea, Giada Colagrande, Francesco Siciliano.

Dir Abel Ferrara, Pro Thierry Lounas, Conchita Airoldi and Joseph Rouschop, Screenplay Maurizio Braucci from an idea by Abel Ferrara and Nicola Tranquillino, Ph Stefano Falivene, Pro Des Igor Gabriel, Ed Fabio Nunziata, Costumes Rossano Marchi.

Capricci/Urania Pictures/ Tarantula/Dublin Films/ Arte France Cinéma etc.-BFI.
84 Mins. France/Italy/Belgium. 2014. 11 September 2015. Cert. 18.