Pier Paolo Pasolini 1922–1975
Italian director, screenwriter, author, and actor.
Pasolini's films seek to combine his Marxist sensibilities with a deep, non-denominational spirituality. They are considered highly controversial, anti-Catholic, and autobiographical. Decrying social injustice, Pasolini attacks the capitalist concept of man as a merchandiser marketing his fellow man.
After a successful career in literature, Pasolini turned to cinema as a new means of expression. Accattone, his first film, expresses the theme of man's exploitation of women for personal gain. Like Pasolini's other heroes, Accattone has no immediate goal besides survival. Accattone is considered a graceful transition from literature to film, and has received praise more for its vibrant spirit and authenticity than its technical prowess.
Pasolini gained international acclaim with The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. All formalities previously peculiar to "Bible movies" disappeared: Pasolini instead chose a neorealistic filming style that proves to be well suited to the film's quiet Renaissance spirit. While fascinated with the myth of Jesus, Pasolini hoped to probe beyond historic aspects in search of a simple, unadorned reality reflecting God's love.
In Edipo Re (Oedipus Rex) and Medea, Pasolini juxtaposed pagan mythology with contemporary philosophy. Oedipus Rex is his most personal film: Pasolini considered it the symbolic key to his own life. Like Oedipus, Pasolini saw himself as "one who lives his life as the prey of life and his own emotions." These films met with popular critical reception, in contrast with Porcine (Pigsty) and Teorema.
Both Pigsty and Teorema provide more contemporary views of society. They also introduce several characters, as opposed to the solitary perspective of earlier films. Here Pasolini's preoccupation with the failings of bourgeois society is acknowledged: these films are his most powerful social protests. While these are his first attempts to depict an actual cinematic reality, it is philosophical rather than naturalistic. Although Teorema won the International Catholic Film Office Award, it was later banned by the Vatican.
The trilogy of The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, and The Arabian Nights signifies Pasolini's penchant for storytelling. Their reception was controversial due to their graphic content; however, many find their medieval bawdiness witty and refreshing. Pasolini considered them a final attack on Western European decadence and an accurate portrait of medieval life. Most critics find the trilogy visually lush but thematically empty.
Pasolini's last film, Salo: 120 Days of Sodom, culminated a controversial career. Based on the Marquis de Sade's novel 120 Days of Sodom, Salo is a fierce depiction of Fascist Italy as well as a final, pained allegory of exploitative humanity. Salo was banned in Italy before appearing in the United States, but it is considered particularly noteworthy for its contrast between indecent subject and formalized style. While some critics find Salo perceptive and insightful, others have accused Pasolini of self-indulgence. Elliot Stein says, "It has as much to tell about what human beings are capable of as Anna Karenina … but Sade tells us more than we want to hear, and Pasolini shows us more than we want to see."
Pasolini considered Salo to be a film about the sadism of modern humanity. He felt that sexual sadism was a metaphor for class struggle and power politics. Shortly after the completion of the film, Pasolini was murdered. Of his own life he had said "I love life with such violence and intensity that no good can come of it. How it will end I don't know…." (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 61-64.)