Pushing society to its limits

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Poet, revolutionary, theoretician, intellectual, filmmaker, actor and expert on the dark side of the human soul, but also avowed homosexual, communist and Catholic. Pasolini stands out as one of the most powerful and illustrious scourges of rigid Italian society in the second half of the 20th century. During his life, he embraced Christianity and then rejected it. He felt cheated by Communism and Christian Democracy and found his escape from reality in football.

The literary work of Pier Paolo Pasolini, who published his first book of verse in 1941, covers a wide range of genres, such as poetry, essays and drama. But it is through his cinematographic work that the artist shapes his ram against the social stagnation that surrounds him.

Poet, intellectual, filmmaker, actor, but also avowed homosexual, communist and Catholic

After having worked with filmmakers of the caliber of Fellini (he is at the origin of the dialogues of the Nights of Cabiria) and Bertolucci (screenwriter of The Reaper), his work as a writer continues through his experimentation with cinematographic language. In both areas, he shows the characteristics of someone demanding, dissatisfied, rich in contradictions. His films are the result of an attentive and meticulous analysis of himself and his daily reality. His first feature films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), were influenced by Italian neorealism.

The first shows the process of deterioration of the pimp that gives the title its name, a repulsive and despicable character who later tries to redeem himself, in an attempt to live a more decent life after spending his time exploiting two prostitutes. One of the most significant moments in the film is when Accatone asks the gravedigger to bury him in a sunny place. This religious orientation continues in Mamma Roma, in which Anna Magnani plays a prostitute mother with a rebellious son on the outskirts of Rome.

His second phase was marked by two highly controversial films, key to understanding his work as a whole: The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (1964), Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and The Falcons and the Sparrows (1966 ) . Both accentuate the author’s contradictions: communism, Catholicism and a formal experimentation linked to his personal ghosts. In particular, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, according to Pasolini’s own statements, aimed to show the figure of Christ “as a popular myth seen through the eyes of a faithful people”. This is perhaps the best approximation of the figure of the Son of God to date. Comedy, on the other hand, is the genre that floods Les Faucons et les Sparrows, where Chaplinian and Fellinian reminiscences mark the dialogues between two brothers, father and son, and a crow.

Later, Pasolini’s films focus on analyzing the myths on which our Western culture is built; this is what he strives to do in Oedipus Rex (1967), the most autobiographical work of his career, which does not escape the shadow of Freudian psychoanalysis. It reflects, on the one hand, a personal view of the feelings of the author, and on the other hand, a representation of incestuous sexual relations. Médée (1969), with soprano Maria Callas, marked a turning point in Pasolini’s artistic curiosity; the filmmaker uses Euripides’ tale to confront the idealized vision of past civilizations and the rationalist vision of modern civilizations. It is also worth mentioning Theorem (1968) which reached the peak of his career. A bourgeois Italian family is visited by a mysterious guest who changes the behavior of all its members, seducing them with his magnetic attraction, except the maid, who becomes an “apostle of the revolution”. The rooms where the film was screened were violently evacuated by the police.

Also in 1969, he directed Pigsty, a cruel vision of physical and psychic cannibalism and zoophilia. It tells two stories at once: the first, which takes place at the end of the 15th century, tells the story of a young man with an insatiable appetite who leads him to murder lonely travelers to devour them later. The second takes place in Germany, at the end of the 1960s; Julian prefers his secret visits to the pigsties to the love of his fiancée Ida. As one can imagine, the film was not popular and suffered widespread social rejection.

However, where his thoughts on sex and pleasure are most evident are in Trilogy of Life: Decameron (1970), The Canterbury Tales (1972), and A Thousand and One Nights (1974). Pasolini used his poetic and lyrical take on reality to promote the joy of sex. The stories, played by non-professional actors, unfold in the three films with humor and irreverence, always marked by the human condition.

His last film, Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), is based on the text of the Marquis de Sade, but takes place in the Fascist Republic of Salò. The film focuses on a closed and evil universe where sex is a means of oppression and death at the hands of representatives of power. It has been banned in several countries.

On November 2, 1975, before Salò was released, Pasolini died on a beach in Ostia. Even today there are several conspiracy theories that differ from the official version, which says that he lost his life at the hands of a prostitute, Giuseppe Pelosi. However, three decades later, Pelosi has declared his innocence, accusing three people, who he says killed him while shouting “dirty communist, poof”.

Fervent defender of the “poetic film”, characterized by its symbolism and its heavy literary weight, 100 years after his birth in Bologna, Pasolini’s artistic heritage is almost as vast as it is unsustainably free and provocative, finding its limits only in its own obsessions.

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