Abel Ferrara’s Biopic Pasolini Looks at the Transgressive Italian Director

A paean to a director killed to keep the world turning.

Kino Lorber

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.

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