“No other filmmaker from the ‘60s continues to seem as strikingly contemporary as Pier Paolo Pasolini. His insistence on a cinema of poetry, his candid analysis of the politics of sex, and his search for the spiritual in the everyday make him not only a forerunner of contemporary debates, but also an active participant in those debates.” - Richard Peña, formerly of the Film Society of Lincoln Center
It’s been four decades since we lost the ingenuity of Pier Paolo Pasolini. A writer, a filmmaker, an artist, an intellectual, Pasolini embraced life and lived it to the fullest. What I appreciate the most about Pasolini’s work is how open it is to interpretation. The evolution of my personal understanding of his work has been underway since 2007 when for the first time ever, I saw a Pasolini film on the big screen. Valerio Mastandrea was in New York City to perform with the production, Accattone in Jazz as part of New York City’s tribute to Pier Paolo Pasolini. "The project started five years ago at a jazz festival. The organizer asked me to read something about Pasolini, to make sort of an adaptation of one of his screenplays. I was very familiar with his film, “Accattone”, so I found the script and created an act. I play all the characters in the movie while the jazz musicians play along. It's really a jazz project full of improvisation. We have 10 chapters of the movie; the beginning, middle and end. We perform together and my words become music and their rhythm becomes words." The performance made a big impression on me and I’ve been hooked on Pasolini ever since.
I’ve found that reading his poetry in Italian, free of translations has helped me the most in having at least some understanding of what was going on in his mind. He was a complicated person of many layers but above all, when I read his words, I see a realist. His movies, his stories and his poetry are all very real and reflective of the brutalities of life. But he also was a passionate lover of life, so there is always that element of optimism in his work that contrasts the pessimism and reality of the harsh world. Pasolini loved children and he rallied for the poor. His Roman films were often shot in the slums because he wanted to bring that story and that struggle to light. His protagonists in those stories were tortured souls in real-life like Anna Mangani and Totò, perhaps because they didn’t have to reach very far to pull out performances fueled by empathy. But then, that’s my interpretation, my opinion and I’ve learned over this eight years, that anyone moved at all by the work of Pasolini has an opinion about what made him create his iconic films, and that’s what keeps him relevant 40 years after his death.
|Pier Paolo Pasolini and Anna Magnani on the set of Mamma Roma|
© Archivio storico Istituto Luce Cinecittà srl
I was fortunate to spend some time in Italy this year during the 40th anniversary of his death. There were dozens of events all over Italy in commemoration. I attended a discussion at the Roman book store Libreria Granai as part of the series, 10 Days of Pasolini.
Several authors and scholars spoke about certain aspects of his life from his love of Rome to his rallying for the poor to his fascination with sex and homosexuality to his filmmaking in Basilicata, where he shot "Il Vangelo secondo Matteo" (The Gospel According to St. Matthew). One discussion I really enjoyed was the presentation of the book, Comizi d’Amore by Mario Desiati e Roberto Ippolito. The book features recollections by Pasolini’s cousin, Graziella Chiarcossi and explores several aspects of his work and personality through an investigation conducted by Pasolini in 1963 on sexuality in Italy.
During the Festa del Cinema in Rome, Mario Sesti’s documentary film, "The Voice of Pasolini" was shown at the Nuovo Cinema Aquilla Theater, located in the Pignetto neighborhood where he shot "Accattone." It’s an abstract work that explores Pasolini’s detest for the bourgeoisie, politicians and war. Narrated by actor Toni Servillo, the film is yet another interpretation of Pasolini’s work. Following the film, Sesti moderated a fascinating discussion with Pasolini’s cousin about his personal life and work.
While I was passing through the region on my “Basilicata: Terra di Cinema” tour in September, I caught up with Daniele Bracuto, an expert on all things Pasolini. He is currently the president of the local tourist association in Barile- Pro Loco and the movie association Cineforum Pier Paolo Pasolini that promotes movies and culture in the area of the magnificent Monte Vulture, a now dormant volcano that majestically towers over its surrounding towns. We met at the Museo della Civiltà Contadina, a beautiful space that pays homage to the past generations of the region. It was a very moving experience for me because it gave me some insight into how my great grandparents lived before they left for America in 1906. I asked Bracuto about Pasolini’s time in Matera and his feelings about the region of Basilicata.
How did Pasolini discover Basilicata as a place to create cinema?
In 1962, Pasolini passed through Basilicata looking for locations for the film "The Gospel According to St. Matthew." He had been in Calabria (where he found the actress for the Holy Mary, Margherita Caruso) and on his return back to Rome, made a stop in Matera. He was fascinated by what he saw. He found other locations suited for the film close by, choosing Castel Lagopesole (where he had filmed scenes of the Sanhedrin) and Barile with the Urban Park of the Wine Cellars, where he set the scene for the Annunciation, the Nativity and the massacre of the innocents.
Pasolini was attracted to the purity of the landscapes, the roughness of the structures and the authenticity of the people. In fact, the locations he chose were so fitting, he did not need any other sets. Pasolini chose Basilicata as the Holy Land because he considered it ideal to shoot scenes from the Gospel.
Tell me about his relationship with Basilicata.. he seemed to really love the region.
The locations in Basilicata were perfect for Pasolini’s film. But I think that he had loved the region so much because the people were very welcoming and he found such wonderful places outside of shooting.
Pasolini heard about Basilicata from Luchino Visconti, who shot the movie "Rocco and His Brothers" a few years earlier. He loved these places because of their authenticity and he loved the people because of their hospitality. Seeing cameras and participating as extras in the film created a real revolution because there was so much misery and poverty during those years. I've heard stories about people of my town, Barile, that participated as extras to earn some money.
It's apparent that the people of Basilicata still hold in their hearts a great affection and pride for the time Pasolini spent in their region.
Pasolini was violently murdered and most likely suffered greatly in his death. Although Pino Pelosi was arrested for the brutal murder, many doubt that it was him, or if he is guilty, that he acted alone. Whoever his killers.. and whatever their motive.. they were not successful in taking away the impact that Pasolini had and continues to have on the Italian culture and filmmaking throughout the world. Pasolini’s relevance is still very much alive today. His vision and intellect continue to inspire filmmakers, authors, scholars and journalists to write and interpret the timeless body of work he left for us.