Probably most famous on these shores for his 1992 Bad Lieutenant, director Abel Ferrara is not one for pulling punches in his movies, and his biopic Pasolini — filmed in 2014 but only now receiving domestic distribution — kicks off with Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) editing his notorious Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom in 1975. It’s one of Salò’s tamer early scenes, featuring “only” full-frontal nudity and verbal humiliation with no coprophagy or rape just yet, but it raises the question: Where do you go after making one of the most transgressive films ever?
History tells us Pasolini was killed — or possibly assassinated — by male hustlers on the beach of Ostia before its release, and Ferrara unflinchingly re-creates this quasi-crucifixion, while increasing its horror with a Salò-evoking sound design. Until then, Ferrara follows the queer and Communist but otherwise mellow Pasolini on his final day, visiting friends and family and the occasional dark-eyed street ruffian while developing his unmade next project: a reflection on the role of the artist in a world starved for messiahs, one which harkened back to Pasolini’s less abrasive, more spiritual earlier films such as The Gospel According to Matthew. Ultimately, Ferrara depicts Pasolini as a gentle intellectual with some very unpopular views. Funny how they so often die young.
Not rated. Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.