Humorous, poetic, foul-mouthed and provocative, “Nerolio” perfectly mirrors the diverse faces of its subject, Pier Paolo Pasolini, writer, filmmaker and unashamed homosexual. Built as a series of imagined episodes from the final months of an unnamed poet-director, pic has already drawn strong pro and con reactions on home turf, and looks set to draw equal discussion at overseas fest showings, to judge by its Locarno preem.
Though the film is in no way pitched solely at gay auds, theatrical sales look problematic, given Pasolini’s fading overseas rep and the movie’s specialized subject matter. But item could raise some useful ruckus from its deliberately non-p.c. stances on both the filmmaker’s gayness and the veneration he has inspired in Italy since his death in 1975.
Film’s structured, controlled feel is very different from Grimaldi’s raucous prostie pic, the 1994 “Le Buttane.” Shot in B&W and divided into a trio of segments, “Nerolio” could be subtitled “three episodes from the life of a homosexual, poet and filmmaker.” It also doesn’t pretend to dissect the truth about his 1975 slaying territory already covered in Marco Tullio Giordana’s more analytical “Pasolini: An Italian Crime” (1995).
Played by approximate look-alike Marco Cavicchioli, the central character is simply called “the poet,” first introduced in a 20-minute seg traveling to Syracuse, Sicily, holing up in a ritzy hotel, strolling the sights and then gazing wistfully at a group of young men playing football. When night falls, the poet hires one after another for oral sex as, in voiceover, he rhapsodizes about their beauty and energizing youth.
Second seg, at 50 minutes the longest, is titled “February 20” and slowly deconstructs the foregoing image of the high-minded homosexual dreamer. Section finds the poet in his Rome home, where he’s visited by a literature student, Valerio (Vincenzo Crivello), who claims to idolize his movies and wants to talk about film language. Though the poet initially gives the kid a hard time, he agrees to other meetings; Valerio, however, privately reckons the poet is washed up, and is only interested in getting a copy of his novel to him in order to get it published. When the poet twigs to the truth, the scene is set for a wonderfully scripted set piece in which the two go head to head.
Final part (titled “Late Autumn”) functions as a coda, showing the poet picking up a guy at Rome station, later offering him money for sex and, finally, after an unshown argument, being beaten to death in a desolate area.
Grimaldi is on record as saying the film is neither a documentary nor a simple Pasolini putdown. Rather, it’s an attempt to take a clear-eyed look at an artist who was often vilified during his lifetime but has since, in typical Italian fashion, been exalted to an untouchable.
Especially in its humorous central seg, pic will appeal to anyone who ever entertained doubts about Pasolini’s talents as a filmmaker. Though the poet is portrayed as a master of language in his rapturous voiceovers admiring the bodies of well-endowed youths, in private life he’s shown to be a vulgar, intellectually arrogant curmudgeon whose taste for raw sex is more physical than spiritual.
On that level, pic could offend ultra-correct gay sensibilities, with Pasolini painted as the architect of his own doom a splenetic, aging boy-chaser who justified his sexual activity under a poetic mask of searching for the revitalizing power of youth. But pic can also be read in a more straightforward way: as a portrait of a man who looked into the abyss of human nature, saw it for what it was, and suffered dreamers and hypocrites lightly.
Equipped with top-notch B&W lensing by Maurizio Calvesi that brings a real period feel to events, and a tour-de-force perf by Cavicchioli that brings Grimaldi’s robust, often very funny script fully to life, “Nerolio” is all the richer for its deliberate ambiguities and contradictions. Those who knew Pasolini may consider it an outrage to his memory, but, as Grimaldi has stressed , and the finished pic supports, that would be missing the point.
Though the film is verbally unrestrained, it’s coy on a visual level, with no male full-frontals or explicit sex. The title is a contraction of “Nero Petrolio ,” referring to Pasolini’s posthumously published book “Petrolio.”