Ferrara (2015 Europod) Willem Dafoe
Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 22 Sept 15; ticket: £8:75
death is politics
It used to be that the way a film’s opening title credits flipped through was first: the distributor – Fox – Columbia – Universal – followed by film title, then the stars….there were variations through the eons of cinema, which variations reflected the movie power game. Now it’s the money that’s up front. ‘Pasolini’ like most other films these days, has its front end loaded with the names of production companies and finance big cheeses making sure the audience sees who’s put the plums in the pudding. These credits take a substantial time to roll through, as if telling the audience: it’s the money that counts.
It always has, of course. But before, the money people just haven’t wanted their names up ‘in lights’ as badly as now.
They want it bad. What might Pasolinin have thought?
I think Ferrara’s Pasolini is a very poor movie. It seems to be neither one thing nor another, stuck in a no man’s land between fake verisimilitude and cod realisation of Pasolini’s last script. For the most part the film looked like an excuse to put Willem Dafoe (the talent bringing in the Euros) through his paces, to let him walk through the shots peering intellectually out at the world through his heavy rimmed glasses, monolithically po faced. Dafoe has nothing to say other than what he has said before.
Nothing to say squares with Ferrara’s ‘Pasolini’. Ferrara is a great admirer – fan – of Pasolini. In a way that should have been enough to warn him not to make a movie about his idol. Never touch the stuff you love; love when expressed in film unless tempered in the fire of other emotions, always communicates as a tepid force. And that is part of the problem with the film: in relation to Pasolini, Ferrara never shows us the forces at work within and around his protagonist. We just get a lot Pasolini quotations, chapter and verse, but they don’s say anything real in the context of a movie about his last day. Pasolini’s quotes come across as merely ornamental.
Perrrara poses no questions with this film. As if he was frightened of asking questions; as if to make his film it is enough to follow Dafoe around pretending to be Pasolini. This is dire stuff, and I believe Pasolini would have cringed at this spectacle of himself.
There don’t seem to be any ideas within the film itself, Farrera’s ideas that is. Is he too much in awe of his subject? We have a smattering of Pasolini’s ideas sprinkled though the dialogue as Dafoe enters and brushes against different worlds: low life world, high life world, family, film world. But there is no idea enfolding the movie; only on constant, the image of the man in glasses. There is nothing either in the camera set ups or in the shots that establishes any way of understanding what we are shown (we do not ‘see ‘in this film we are shown, and that is part of the problem) or any point of view other than the privileged observer who follows his quarry through his last day on earth.
Most viewers seeing the film will know the final outcome: the sudden violent slaying of the film maker. So in a way what is the point of making this the defining point of the movie, the end marker? Do we have to see it, does the violence of the image make it real. Ferrara has gone for the obvious, when there were other perhaps more powerful and affecting ways Pasolini’s death might have been expressed.
There might be a point to imaging of violence but not in this film. Death runs through Pasolini’s work. His psyche and the voices within him are a familiar of death and physical suffering. The forces that surround him, that have surrounded him all his life are murderous. But instead of pushing at Pasolini’s line of escape and his inability or perhaps lack of desire to find one, Ferrara opts for the ‘escapist’ option and fills out his material, a significant proportion of the movie, with a rendering of a script Pasolini was preparing to shoot, but might never have shot. It feels like an opting out of a core difficulty of what and how to film; and a choosing of a cheap easy way out to justify the script to the Euro-money boys, so fulsomely credited.
Pasolini’s death as shot by Ferrara is disturbing in its violence. But not as disturbing as the autopsy report on his death which I read in Wikipedia. The autopsy (perhaps Ferrara has evidence that this autopsy was incorrect or inaccurate, in which case this itself is relevant material) revealed that Pasolini had been run over multiple times, his testicles crushed by something like a steel bar and that his body had been partially burned.
The form of this death is a statement. But whose statement? Ferrara isn’t interested; Ferrara’s response is no comment. Just feel the fun and joy in the last script, the realisation of the dark clown, ‘the buffon’. And Pasolini was a buffon at heart, so what does it mean to be a ‘buffon’? Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org