Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Abel Ferrara's Pasolini (2014) finally hits theaters Friday

With Abel Ferrara's 2014 film finally getting a US release this Friday I'm reposting the report I filed from the New York Film Festival when the screening was followed by Q&A with the director and Willem DaFoe which turned into a shouting match as an audience member insisted that Ferrara didn't know about Pasolini's life.

Willem Dafoe, Abel Ferrara and Amy Taubin
If you had any doubt about the New York Film festival being alive one only needed be at Alice Tully Hall tonight when Abel Ferrara verbally sparred with an audience member about his biography about Pier Palo Pasolini. If a festival can program a film that has the audience and a film maker battling it out in a loud vibrant discourse it is very much alive.

The argument of which I speak came after the screening of Ferrara's latest film, but before I get to that I should tell you about the film....

PASOLINI covers roughly the last week of the director's life. We watch as he is interviewed, returned from Stockholm where he was speaking about one of his novels, works on another novel, a screenplay, deals with censorship issues with SALO and investigates his head space. One long section shows us a portion of his novel, another the script he is working on. It all culminates in the death of the director (and the subject that brought on the argument in the theater).

A difficult film, its fragmentary at times, it doesn't spell things out, is a mix of English and Italian (and French and dialect), has graphic sex, and is a film of ideas. Clearly this will not becoming to the local multiplex. It was so difficult for some that there were more than a few walkouts.

For me the film is something I admire more than I feel emotionally close to. The early voice over by Dafoe as Pasolini to his friend Umberto about a new novel sums up the film, its a look at someone who is kind of like Paolini but isn't. Its also a summation of sorts. (its a great bit of dialog which I couldn't write down). The trouble comes not from not being a typical biography, rather from having way too much on its mind, there is simply too much going on and a need to know a great deal (about Pasolini and Italy in 1975) that things get lost. Its a film that cries out for a run time twice its 87 minutes.

Dafoe is amazing as Pasolini and it's kind of a shame that the difficult nature of the film will keep the film from allowing people from seeing one of Dafoe's best performances.

After the film Dafoe and Ferrara  came out for a Q&A run by Amy Taubin of the Film Society. Ferrara tore into the questions with a great deal of zeal and managed to answer several extra questions because he knew they were going to be asked. (He also got Dafoe to be Mussolini briefly)

As to the polyglot mix of languages Dafoe took the lead in answering the question saying that the bouncing between Italian and English was the result of deciding to cut the two versions, English and Italian together into one film. The mix being felt best reflected the multi-lingual nature of Italy and of Pasolini's world. (Personally I wouldn't have minded if the subtitling hadn't been scattershot at best)

The director went into long discussions about seeing DECAMERON and SALO for the first time and how SALO made him want to make movies that affected people that deeply (and not know what city they were in when they were done)

The fireworks went off when Amy Taubin asked about the death of Pasolini in the film and wanted to know why it differed from the two versions of his death, the official police one (that had it a robbery) and the Leftist one that had him assassinated. Ferrara said that the ending fit the movie he was making. Since the film isn't straight biography, nor a crime documentary he could take liberties since the event was in between the two versions.

This didn't sit well with one gentleman who shouted that the murder was assassination and that Ferrara had punked out in the end since the use of interviews at the start foreshadowed a political end. Both Ferrara and Dafoe took exception to this and said the interviews were actually Paolini's verbatim words and foreshadowed nothing.

The man persisted and Ferrara asked what evidence the man had but he had none. Ferrara then went on to explain Italy in 1975 including the Aldo Moro killing before saying something to the effect that Pasolini was just a film director. The audience member went ballistic arguing that not only was Pasolini more than a film director and thus a suitable target for assassination, but that perhaps Ferrara didn't take his subject seriously enough.  Ferrara pointed out that he was serious about the subject having made the film to begin with.

The argument then went back to the assassination and the reasons behind it with Ferrara ultimately one upping the man with even more reasons, before saying that assassination was unlikely what ever you think was the motivation.

When the battle settled down enough for Taubin to get a word in edgewise she called time. The audience applauded and we headed out into the night.

For me this was really cool, Put it into the memory book of cool things that happened at New York Film fest screenings from the audience wanting to kill the director of BLACK VENUS in 2010, to various audience members screaming at the Israeli director of THE GATEKEEPERS that he doesn't understand Israel. It took an okay to very good film and made it a truly great and memorable night at the festival

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