Everything about Pier Paolo Pasolini, the militantly gay Italian filmmaker, signaled Scadal and drama, even his tragic and untimely death. Controversy hovered around him like buzzards at a fresh kill. Pasolini's contentious views on religion, politics, and culture aroused the full spectrum of emotions. His sensational murder in l975, ostensibly at the hands of a young hustler, is still unresolved.
Ironically, the circumstances of his death approximated the squalid world depicted in his very first film, Accatone (l962), a grim depiction of the sordid existence of a pimp in a seedy section of Rome, where Pasolini lived as a youngster.
Though the quality of his work is inconsistent, Pasolini was undoubtedly one of the world's most intriguing filmmakers. Classic Greek drama, medieval literature, Arabian tales, and the contemporary social scene, all found their way into his movies. His gritty, openly gay films (Teorema, The Decameron) were simultaneously hailed as brilliant and condemned for their “blasphemy.” Two of his better-known pictures, The Canterbury Tales (l972) and Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom (l975) were declared obscene by the courts.
But Pasolini was never just a movie director: He was a Marxist intellectual, a poet, a novelist–above all, a homosexual at the center of the Italian cultural milieu. Throughout his life, Pasolini valiantly struggled to reconcile the conflicting forces that influenced his work: Marx, Freud, and, yes, Jesus Christ.
In Pasolini: An Italian Crime, Marco Tullio Giordana reexamines the director's brutal killing, one of the most painful events in recent Italian history. Like an open sore, the case simply won't disappear; there's too much evidence to suggest that the accused adolescent didn't act alone, that “bigger forces” were behind him.
Combining authentic footage and dramatic recreation of key episodes, this dense, highly charged picture dissects Pasolini's murder and the investigation and trial that followed. Like Z, Costa-Gavras' powerful expose of Greek politics, Pasolini is guaranteed to spark new controversy and to win the director new fans as well as new enemies.
The movie begins as a genuine suspense-thriller, with Italian cops chasing a car, driven by a working-class kid, Pino Pelosi, along the seafront of Ostia. The following day, when Pasolini's body is discovered near the town's docks, Pelosi confesses to the killing. After bludgeoning the director to death with a sharp board, Pelosi took Pasolini's Alfa Romeo and ran him over.
The coarse 17-year-old teenager claims that he was picked up for paid sex and that he acted in self-defense when Pasolini's advances became too violent. The police–and other officials–want to file the case away as just another gay murder. However, the holes in Pelosi's testimony are quickly uncovered by investigating cops, newspaper reporters and Pelosi's friends. Additional discrepancies emerge through the persistent efforts of the legal representative of Pasolini family.
Realizing the impossibility of his work, director Giordana's goal is not so much to reveal the truth, but, as he notes, “to understand why the truth was never unveiled and probably never will be.” Unfortunately, the film doesn't delve deep enough into the various conspiracy theories, the intricate power structure that continues to keep mafia killings and political assassinations from the public eye.
If at the end of the film you feel a bit lost–and exhausted–it's O.K., the barrage of information is designed to show the enormous complexity of Italian politics. Focusing on the murder and its aftermath, the movie assumes a great deal of knowledge about Pasolini.
Clearly, the director had many enemies. His vociferous opposition to the establishment might have played a part. But so could other full-front attacks on private industry, the banks, the Mafia, the mass media–practically every branch of society, including the communist party. Less forgivable than the film's omission of background information is its journalistic earnestness–too many noble speeches about “truth,” as if such truth exists or is easily reachable.
Unlike American society, where race features prominently, Italy is rigidly stratified along class lines. During the trial, Pelosi's lawyers try to elicit sympathy for the kid by turning the case into a battle between the disenfranchised proletariat and the kind of privileged, “decadent” intellectuals that Pasolini represented.
Aside from news footage about the crime scene, the film relies on brief comments from Pasolini's peers and associates. Archival material shows the moving speech that director Bernardo Bertolucci (who began his career as assistant to Pasolini) made at the funeral, and an outraged expression of loss from the late novelist Alberto Moravia. Pasolini himself remains unseen in the picture, except for some TV interviews and a closing statement, a bitter accusation of what's wrong with Italian society. Ironically, 20 years after his death, many of Pasolini's “outrageous” statements have prophetically proven to be accurate.
Year after year, Pasolini's films–and words–continue to inspire and upset viewers. He has become something of a martyr, his death viewed as a crucial moment in modern Italian history. Pasolini: A Crime History makes a most forceful case for a reopening of the murder trial. But it also guarantees that Pasolini will continue to remain an influential figure, a man equally committed to his homosexuality as to his art.