Daily | NYFF 2014 | Abel Ferrara’s PASOLINI



“Reverence is an anomaly in Abel Ferrara’s full-throated, often vicious filmography,” begins Jake Cole at Slant, “but Pasolini is so sedate and inactive that it might not initially seem so awestruck. The film seems content simply to watch Pier Paolo Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) at work in the final day of his life as the master filmmaker discusses ideas for his novel, Petrolio, and sits down at a typewriter to develop another one of its chapters. He reviews post-production footage of Sálo and gives minor notes to the editor. Biopics ascribe titanic importance to a subject’s every gesture, but Ferrara stresses the reality of creation, of its ordinary activities that nonetheless give an artist a sense of fulfillment.”

And as Ben Kenigsberg notes at the AV Club, this is Ferrara’s “second biopic this year. Like the superior Welcome to New York, a veiled film à clef about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it centers on a politically galvanizing figure who was known for his sexual frankness…. Ferrara’s fragmented approach to biography is probably the only way of doing justice to his often-inscrutable subject. A journalist interviewing Pasolini… describes the filmmaker’s work as having ‘the effect of sunlight filtering through dust—beautiful, but hard to understand.’ That’s not quite the effect of the film, but Ferrara’s take on Pasolini, beyond an affirmation of the latter’s greatness, is elusive.”

“Ferrara has been a longtime favorite of the New York Film Festival, for reasons this critic has never begun to fathom,” writes Godfrey Cheshire at “Sure, he’s a colorful New York character, but as a filmmaker he’s erratic and never terribly impressive…. Pasolini certainly doesn’t rank among his worst. It’s just a film that could and should have been much sharper and more engaging…. Watching the film and especially after coming out, I kept wondering what the same story would have been like if filmed by a really smart gay director like R.W. Fassbinder, Gus Van Sant or François Ozon. Ferrara’s problem isn’t, of course, that he’s straight but that he’s too intellectually lazy and self-satisfied to do anything other than offer a warmed over version of the Official Version, which views Pasolini as a modern martyr.”

At Flavorwire, Judy Berman notes that Ferrara “has hyped his film by bragging, ‘I know who killed Pasolini.‘ In truth, if you’re looking for a mystery or a thriller or a shocking revelation about how its protagonist died, Pasolini is going to disappoint you. Neither Ferrara’s theory nor what’s implied by a certain sly shot at the film’s very end will be new to anyone who’s done much reading on the messy, decades-spanning murder case…. More importantly, though, Ferrara’s reconstruction of that scene is beside the point. Pasolini may not be the film we were promised, but it turns out to be something better: a thought-provoking—if not quite masterful—cinematic portrait of an artist whose visionary oeuvre remains poorly understood.”

“Among the few tender touches in Pasolini are scenes with Ninetto Davoli, a former companion of Pasolini and an actor in some of his most fanciful films,” writes David D’Arcy at Artinfo. “Here Davoli (now with white hair) plays a man who was to star in what was to be Pasolini’s next film after Sálo, [Porno-Teo-Kolossal]. Davoli as a young man is played by Riccardo Scamarcio, who looks good, essential for he part, but lacks the gentle inimitable fun of the real Davoli from that time. Still, [cinematographer Stefano] Falivene films them with a whimsical affection and lots of shots that evoke Pasolini’s cinematic legacy. For more of that legacy, here is the essay for the program of the recent traveling series, Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Poet of Contamination.” Click “Programmer’s Essay” for James Quandt on PPP.

Samuel Fragoso talks with Dafoe for Vulture. Earlier: Many, many more reviews that came out of Venice and Toronto.

Update, 10/4: Nick Pinkerton interviews Ferrara for Film Comment.

Update, 10/9: “Abel Ferrara has always been more comfortable playing the role of the hood rat than the intellectual,” writes Nick Pinkerton at Reverse Shot, “though how much of this act is a hustler’s foxiness is anyone’s guess. His line of BS is obviously effective, as he’s traveled Europe with hat in hand to scrape together enough money for Pasolini, which he cowrote with Maurizio Braucci, and the result is recognizably an Abel Ferrara film. The script employs the countdown-to-judgment, death-trip structure that Ferrara has used a number of times before: Bad Lieutenant, ‘R Xmas, 4:44 Last Day on Earth. It’s tempting to attribute this to Ferrara’s Catholicism—the sense that a man is defined by the end of his life, the ritualistic counting down of the Stations of the Cross. Whatever the case, in following his own creative intuition, Ferrara has arrived at something near Pasolini’s own thinking, as per the statement from the latter’s ‘Observations on the Sequence Shot’: ‘It is only thanks to our death that our life serves to express ourselves.'”

Updates, 10/11:Pasolini is not so much an evocation or re-enactment as a poetic and impressionistic view of the man, and this structure proves to be a little too elliptical and confounding,” finds James B. Evans at Electric Sheep.

For the Playlist, Brandon Harris talks with Ferrara “about his newest work, the differences between working in Italy versus the United States, and what the difficult experience of making Welcome to New York, a source of tension between him and distributor IFC Films, taught him about making films based on real life characters.”

Interviews with Dafoe: Diana Drumm (Slant) and Hillary Weston (BlackBook).

Update, 11/10: “Save a few scenes depicting Pasolini’s domestic life—which I found spellbinding—this film lacked the moment-to-moment ‘behavioral inventiveness’ and surprise that I prize so much in Ferrara,” writes Girish Shambu. “When Pasolini’s death arrives, it is rendered conventionally, without a single unpredictable note in any of its detail. Still, it’s not a movie I dislike, even if it feels a world away from his great run of the 1990s…”

Update, 11/24: Ferrara, speaking English, and Olivier Père, speaking French:

NYFF 2014 Index. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at

Did you like this article?
Give it a vote for a Golden Bowtie


Keyframe is always looking for contributors.

"Writer? Video Essayist? Movie Fan Extraordinaire?

Fandor is streaming on Amazon Prime

Love to discover new films? Browse our exceptional library of hand-picked cinema on the Fandor Amazon Prime Channel.