Framing Pasolini: An Interview with Abel Ferrara

Nico Marzano

1 Sep 2015
Ahead of our screenings of Pasolini, Nico Marzano spoke to director Abel Ferrara about the film and the man who inspired it.

Ahead of our screenings of Pasolini, a film about the influential director and the mystery surrounding his death, Cinema and Film Programme Manager Nico Marzano spoke to director Abel Ferrara about the film and the man who inspired it.

You have often remarked that Pier Paolo Pasolini represented a strong artistic influence for you. Can you tell us how this fascinating project was conceived and why you decided to focus your attention on the very last day of his life?

With us one film will lead into another, so the documentaries we made about Napoli, the Chelsea Hotel and Mulberry Street led us to Welcome to New York and Pasolini. The structure of 4:44 Last Day on Earth was also an influential factor.

I think one of the greatest achievements of this film is that it portrays Pasolini on different levels: the writer, poet, filmmaker, activist and the artist who fearlessly opposed power. Who is Pasolini for Abel Ferrara?

That’s it really. He was an artist who was engaged in his work and the world, a political and personal activist, constantly rethinking and re-examining his position, and always living in the moment.

There is an incredible film cast, including Willem Defoe who is outstanding at capturing Pasolini’s mood, and also Ninetto Davoli, one of Italy’s finest actors who featured in several of Pasolini’s films. Can you tell us more about your relationship with the film actors?

This is the fourth film that Willem and I have done together, so it’s a partnership that begins with the choice of material and continues through the writing, rehearsal, shooting and editing; but we are friends as well.

Ninetto came to us at the beginning and wanted to make sure that we would do the right thing for his friend which I thought was pretty impressive with it being 40 years later. But once he sensed where we were coming from, as with the family and really everyone we approached, he was in. I used him because it was another way for me to get close to the spirit of Pier Paolo, to shoot his main actor. Besides, Ninetto had been involved in the writing and rehearsing of Porno-Teo-Kolossal so he obviously understood the material.

I am particularly intrigued by your choice of languages in this film. Why did you include a mixture of Italian and English spoken by native and non-native speakers?

The film is in English because it’s our native language and Pasolini came to me in English, but the fact that Willem speaks enough Italian to play the scenes with the young kid was a big advantage, because he was a street kid and there is no English equivalent to a young Roman from the borgata. When an opportunity like that comes along I’ll take it as a gift and not question the standard use of language in a film.

The film celebrates and protects the political and cultural legacy left to us by this immense artist. How do you see Pasolini’s body of work impacting and inspiring society and filmmakers today?

I think it’s through both what he expressed and how he expressed it, in the movies he made, his political writing, his poetry, the songs he wrote, the paintings he did. It is all there, for today, tomorrow, forever. ■

Pasolini is on at the ICA from 11 September.

Pasolini: Poetry and Politics, a season of films by Pasolini, opens 12 September.

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Tagged with: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Abel Ferrara, Nico Marzano, Film, events