In “Pasolini: An Italian Crime,” Marco Tullio Giordana reexamines what remains perhaps the most painful and lasting wound inflicted on Italian culture in the past 20 years: the brutal murder of filmmaker, poet and novelist Pier Paolo Pasolini in November 1975. A dense but engrossingly dramatic assembly of both fact and conjecture, this thoughtful reconstruction of the investigation and trial that followed the killing operates as both a detached case study and a deeply personal denunciation of injustice, ignorance and indifference. Guaranteed to spark national controversy, the film should be a high-profile release in Italy, with further festival showings paving its way into discerning offshore markets.
Wasting no time on preamble, the film opens with cops pursuing a speeding car along the seafront in Roman satellite town Ostia, and hauling in surly street kid Pino Pelosi (Carlo De Filippi). The following morning, the body of Pasolini — bludgeoned to death and run over — is discovered near the Ostia docks, with Pelosi easily traced back to the same spot. He confesses to the killing, claiming he was picked up by the victim for paid sex, and that he acted in self-defense when Pasolini’s advances became violent.
From the moment the body is discovered, camerawork and cutting immediately become more edgy, weaving in B&W, authentic and reconstructed news footage from the crime scene and brief comments from Pasolini’s friends and associates. The emotional charge is swiftly cranked up higher when cops inform his mother, seen in a single heart-breaking shot, and the cousin who lives with them (Nicoletta Braschi).
Director Giordana then begins a sustained barrage of information, expertly stitched into the dramatic fabric. The holes in Pelosi’s version of the events are uncovered via exchanges between investigating cops, newspaper reporters and Pelosi’s fellow rent boys. Cops and magistrates on the case want to file it away, however, as just another gay killing. Additional discrepancies emerge through the efforts of one persistent police investigator (Toni Bertorelli) and the Pasolini family’s legal rep (Giulio Scarpati).
Several Italian features of the past decade or so have approached parallel territory, attempting to expose the complex power network that keeps the full truth about many crimes with a high national impact — primarily Mafia killings and political assassinations — from coming to light. Most of those films have succumbed to the pitfalls of journalistic earnestness, failing to breathe dramatic life into the events.
Giordana, whose 1979 debut feature, “Maledetto Viamero,” touched on the murder, skirts that problem zone entirely, giving the sober, intense film a very human center. Most remarkable is his ability to conjure in the audience a real depth of feeling for the figure of Pasolini, who remains unseen aside from quick cuts of the reconstructed murder, TV interviews and a closing sequence containing a bitterly resigned declaration about the state of contemporary Italy.
Archive material is shrewdly chosen to implement both sympathy and anger, most notably a moving speech at Pasolini’s funeral by a young Bernardo Bertolucci, who started as his assistant on “Accattone,” and an outraged expression of loss from late novelist Alberto Moravia. The film’s power to provoke a gut reaction of both sorrow and indignation also is wired into Ennio Morricone’s richly melancholy score.
Giordana eschews direct consideration of the conspiracy theories widely entertained, which suggest that Pasolini’s outspokenness about high-level corruption and his fullfrontal attacks on groups ranging from the Mafia to the Church to the Christian Democrats to the Communists had earned him more than enough enemies to make him a target. Anti-Pasolini attitudes keyed by his image as a predatory homosexual and a privileged intellectual also are brought into play.
Script simply states that Pelosi most definitely did not act alone, hypothesizing that other street kids or fascist thugs or perhaps goons hired by the Italian secret service were involved. While the court findings convicted Pelosi of homicide with the aid of persons unknown, the identity of those persons unknown never was investigated.
If the film has a significant weakness, it is the portrayal of the lawyers on both sides, whose dialogue often slips into the more commonplace realm of semifictionalized dramatizations. Scarpati’s performance as Nino Marazzita (who recently officially reopened the case) is fine, but the role is saddled with too many noble speeches about truth. As Pelosi’s attorney trying to turn the case into a battle between the disenfranchised proletariat and the decadent cultural supremacists, TV comic and actor Antonello Fassari could have tried a more subtle approach.
Other perfs are considerably more forceful, in particular seasoned stage thesp Massimo De Francovich in his first film role as the professor who carried out the autopsy on Pasolini. One of Italy’s top character actors, Ivano Marescotti, also is terrific in a small role as arch gay man who frequents the same hustlers as Pasolini.
With extreme naturalness, De Filippi effectively makes Pelosi seem almost like a character from one of Pasolini’s movies.
Lenser Franco Lecca’s slow, deliberate camera gives the events a harsh, drained look that sits well with the general tone and with production designer Gianni Silverstri’s sharp re-creation of the 1970s in Rome’s shabby periphery. Pic’s finest technical contribution is without doubt fast-rising editor Cecilia Zanuso’s intricately structured cutting.