Abel Ferrara • Director
“Pasolini came along and changed everything, as if he were Jesus Christ”
- VENICE 2014: The director from New York Abel Ferrara is in competition at Venice and has managed to impress the Italian audience with his approximation of Pasolini
Over the last few years, the quintessential New Yorker Abel Ferrara has been embracing European cinema with movies such as Napoli, Napoli, Napoli (2009) and Mary (2005). This has been happening because, on one hand, he has been living in Rome for years, chasing his roots. On the other hand, he confesses that some of the problems he has had in funding his films, despite their smaller budgets, have been solved thanks to European producers. Now he is in competition for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival with his most Italian film of all, Pasolini [+see also:
interview: Abel Ferrara
film profile]. In it, he looks back at the last 48 hours in the life of one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century, together with his frequent collaborator Willem Dafoe. The actor also lives in Rome, owing to his being married to actress Giada Colagrande.
Cineuropa: Why did it take you so many years to bring this project to fruition?
Abel Ferrara: Things have to crop up naturally, and I go with the flow to a great extent. I always have four or five ideas in mind in order to make a film out of them. If I didn’t have enough funding or one of the actors I needed for Pasolini, I tended to move on to another project. Until finally, everything came together. Although I have to admit that I hardly had any problems finding funding for this film, in comparison to others. When I said I wanted to make a movie about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and with as controversial an actor as Gerard Depardieu (Welcome to New York [+see also:
film profile]), no one wanted to know. On the other hand, working on a project associated with Pier Paolo Pasolini meant that it wasn’t hard to find a producer in Italy. And then Belgium and France came on board very quickly.
Why did you choose a figure like Pier Paolo Pasolini?
I have Italian cinema from a certain era in my DNA. Not just because of my roots, but also because it’s what I used to watch when I was 20 years old. Antonioni, Fellini, Rosi… a whole cinematic era faded away with them. It was a type of cinema that pursued a vision, with complete freedom on the part of the director and without any kind of forced attitude. Pasolini was also very much committed to this world that I’m talking about. He came along and changed everything, as if he were Jesus Christ.
You are widely regarded as a controversial director, and in this project you recreate the life of a controversial intellectual. But surprisingly, the result is actually not particularly controversial…
I suppose there was no provocation to be found. I restricted myself to showing a guy who was openly gay in the Italy of the 1970s. That’s something that wasn’t in the slightest bit cool. He didn’t hide himself away. He didn’t allow anything or anyone to jeopardise his works of art – not even his mother. He introduced himself to the world with a “These are my words. This is my style.” You can’t get more controversial than that.
Despite the fact that you cover the last hours of Pasolini’s life, you don’t focus on conspiracy theories or suggestions of his possible suicide.
The fact is that it doesn’t matter how he died. In the film, we tell the story of his death but without looking for conclusive explanations, because if we focused on that, it would overshadow the portrayal of his life. I’m not a detective, and I’m not going to set about digging into what other people have already been doing for the last 50 years.
There are critics who don’t understand why Willem Dafoe’s parts were filmed in English while a lot of the other scenes are in Italian.
Well, that’s their problem. We live in a modern world in which that should be a mere footnote. Nonetheless, we did take the time to shoot the film twice – once in English and again in Italian – apart from the key scenes that were only shot in English. There are differences in Willem’s performance, but not many. I wasn’t after complete truthfulness. It’s my own approach to the topic, and both Willem and I are from the USA. Is there perhaps an actor who speaks all of the languages in the world? Maybe Viggo Mortensen, but I didn’t see him as Pasolini. I wanted Dafoe. We live in the same city; we have the same ideals and the same origins. We’ve been filming together very often recently, and we share a deep connection. I knew he was the right man for the job.
(Translated from Spanish)
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