Pier Paulo Pasolini was an Italian film maker and poet most famous for works such as The Gospel According to Matthew, Arabian Nights and the controversial Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom. These films were a strange mix of the earthy and naturalistic with splashes of the poetic and exotic. Working in the 60’s and 70’s, he was a controversial figure in Italy both for his open homosexuality and his political activity, with flirtations with the Communist party and constant condemnation of what he considered the ‘bourgeoisie’. In 1975 he was brutally murdered in Ostia, outside Rome. The circumstances surrounding his death are still debated to this day.
Director Cathy Lee Crane has created a filmic collage of the year leading up to Paolini’s death using a mixture of reconstructions, documentary footage, photographs and the auteur’s own words. The film details his fight against the political right in Italy and his observance of a breakdown in society, his sexuality and his work as a film maker. The focus on his films is mostly on his debut Accattone!, although there are references to his final film Salo. The documentary maker creates a vivid portrait of a complex artist with a strong moral foundation.
The film has a dreamy, poetic quality, which is mostly down to the elliptical editing and Pasolini’s graceful, thoughtful ruminations. The director chooses to reconstruct some of the scenes of Accattone! which seems like a slightly pointless exercise, and some of the other narrations come across as overly portentous, but most of Cathy Lee Crane’s experiments work well. The director has eschewed a typical documentary biopic in favour of a more experimental bent, which fits in with Pasolini’s body of work.
Although Pasolin’s Last Words is a compelling and hypnotic depiction of Pasolini’s last year, you get the feeling that there is much more to explore in Pasolini’s life. This documentary feels like a juicy taster for a more rounded and complete documentary of Pasolini’s life and career, stretching from his earlier days. Pasolin’s Last Words is an accomplished film for viewers already familiar with the late Italian’s work, and ready to explore the man in a more meditative manner.