Review: PASOLINI Is More Ambitious Than Most Biopics

pasolini dafoe
Willem Dafoe in a scene from Pasolini, courtesy Kino Lorber.

Pasolini is a biopic of boundary-pushing director Pier Paolo Pasolini (Saló, or the 120 Days of Sodom) directed by another boundary-pushing director, Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant). It takes a look at the last day of the controversial filmmaker’s life, leading up to his unfortunate and mysterious murder. After debuting at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, the film is finally making its way to U.S. cinemas.

Pasolini is one of the most notorious names in movie history because of his many controversial films, so a biopic about him was sure to be interesting. The story is made even more interesting because of the fact that it is set against the making of what is perhaps his most infamous and controversial movie. With this, the filmmakers were able to capture the whole essence of Pasolini’s life and career in the events of a single day.

However, with this also came other issues with the narrative. The pacing is largely inconsistent as the story jumps around the day in question. Ferrara is obviously trying to make an artistic statement with the film, but this often came at the expense of cohesiveness and coherence in the narrative. At times, the movie does become a bit hard to follow as you are trying to figure out where and when you are in the story.

The film also doesn’t feel like it is pushing enough boundaries, apart from the almost experimental narrative. With a combo like Ferrara and Pasolini, you would expect to see something that would end up being extremely controversial in its own right. Instead, what we get, no matter how unconventional, still feels too safe and afraid to challenge audience’s perceptions.

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Willem Dafoe in a scene from Pasolini, courtesy Kino Lorber.

Furthermore, the movie doesn’t do a great job of developing the characters. The film does do a very good job of capturing Pasolini, and in a way, it almost feels like a love letter to him. Otherwise, the character development is weak. None of the supporting characters are remotely developed or memorable. Perhaps this is commentary on the egocentric ideals of a film director, but this is weakly developed if that is the case.

Willem Dafoe does an excellent job of playing the eponymous filmmaker. Of course, he never really transforms physically into his roles, but he does a great job of capturing their personalities. Dafoe’s performance is nuanced and subtle, really building a perfect homage to the character which he inhabits. Dafoe’s performance almost makes you wish the movie were longer so that you could see him do even more.

On a technical level, the film was mostly strong. The cinematography and production design are excellent, doing a great job of creating the 70’s look for which the movie was going. The look and feel of the film are definitely very immersive. The editing does have a few moments which are a bit dizzying, although the incorporation of footage from Pasolini’s actual work is quite good.

Overall, Pasolini was a mostly solid movie. Although it likely won’t be of much interest to anyone outside of the film community due to its complex narrative, the movie does feature a great performance by Willem Dafoe and is a good homage to a famous filmmaker.

Pasolini opens in theaters on May 10.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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