Marking the 20th anniversary of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s brutal murder, this study of the controversial Italian filmmaker, novelist, poet and polemicist is the ideal complement to any showing of his work. A solidly assembled, critical crash course in the principal themes of Pasolini’s films and literature, backed by basic biographical info, this hourlong documentary should find a place in upscale TV skeds and educational slots.
Starting with Pasolini’s literary output and gradually shifting its focus to his films as his interest in that field took over, the docu looks at his fascination with death and religion, his deep-seated distrust of the political state, his distance from patriarchal figures and binding ties to maternal ones, and his disinterest in intellectuals and the middle classes, preferring instead to portray stories of the proletariat.
Via archive footage, old photographs and interviews, Pasolini’s early life and education are broadly reconstructed, showing him moving with his beloved mother from his native Friuli to a run-down Rome suburb in the shadows of a prison, and living in a desperate unemployed state for two years before finding work as a teacher.
He was first exposed to film as a script collaborator with Mario Soldati, Mauro Bolognini and Federico Fellini (on “Nights of Cabiria”). Tracing the stylistic and ideological influences of Dreyer and Chaplin, and using a generous selection of film excerpts, the docu examines the arc stretching from the solar intensity of Pasolini’s 1961 debut, “Accattone,” to the dark disillusionment of his final film, “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.”
The often contradictory elements of his work, the differences separating his writings from his films, and the influence of certain painters on his visual style are brought into focus. Pertinent sequences from his films are considered in light of his relationship to his mother, to sex and his own homosexuality, and to the Italian political establishment.
The film’s brevity prevents director Ivo Barnabo Micheli, who made an earlier documentary on Pasolini in 1970, and critic Gianni Rondolino, who co-scripted, from going far beyond the surface, and due to rights questions, several key films are represented only by still photos. But the film is nonetheless an extensive, stimulating look at one of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic artists.