Tag Archives: Pasolini

The Untamed

The Untamed

Seen at L’Étrange Festival, Paris (France)

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release date: 22 May 2017

Director: Amat Escalante

Writers: Amat Escalante, Gibrán Portela

Cast: Kenny Johnston, Simone Bucio

Original title: La región salvaje

Mexico, Denmark, France 2016

100 mins

Amat Escalante’s SF exploration of Mexican society’s attitudes to sexuality is compelling despite its overuse of the supernatural.

Two Mexican films shown this year at the Etrange Festival – The Darkness and The Untamed – happen to focus on a small house in a forest clearing where strange things happen. But this is as far as the comparison extends. Awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Amat Escalante’s The Untamed borrows its premise from Pasolini’s Theorem: a family is disrupted by the arrival of a very attractive stranger who seduces all of its members and turns theirs lives upside down. Where Pasolini was lashing out at the Italian bourgeoisie of the 1960s, Escalante similarly confronts a contemporary Mexican society still hopelessly bogged down in machismo, misogyny and homophobia.

The opening sequence, which contrasts two visions of female sexuality, gives a good insight into what Escalante is driving at. After a shot of a meteorite in outer space, the camera zooms on a naked Veronica (Simone Bucio) slowly reaching a climax in a dark room, eventually revealing a glimpse of the receding long tentacle that has just given her pleasure. She then leaves the wood cabin wounded and bleeding. In the next scene we witness a couple – Angel (Jesús Meza) and Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) – waking up in a sunlit bedroom. Without any preliminaries or even a kiss, Angel takes Ale from behind while the camera zooms in on her face, still and expressionless on the pillow as she waits for him to come. She then wipes herself, gets up and masturbates under the shower until she is interrupted by their kids… After meeting Ale’s gay brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works as a nurse in the local hospital, Veronica intrudes into the lives of those three characters, changing them for ever.

She is the visitor here, and Escalante plays on the name given to Terence Stamp’s character in Theorem, as the Visitor in this story is also an alien creature from outer space. The director justifies his recourse to the supernatural by the fact that reality has already gone beyond fiction, but by including a long explicit sex scene between Ale and the alien (and why not one of the men?) – which was greeted by laughter among the audience of the L’Étrange Festival – he undermines more than he enhances the film’s social criticism. In Possession (1981), Andrzej Żuławski (whose influence is acknowledged in the final credits) explicitly opted for the realm of madness, altogether forsaking realism. But Escalante wants to have it both ways and fails to solve the conflict between the genres. Showing the demon in Possession made sense in order to blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality. But since Escalante’s alien is established as real from the outset, it is hard to see the point of a sex scene that, far from producing the disturbing effect it had in Żuławski, seems to be revisiting Hideki Takayama’s manga and animés with an Overfiend redesigned by H. R. Giger. Escalante would have been better advised to follow the example of his Mexican compatriot Daniel Castro Zimbrén in The Darkness and retain more mystery, so that the otherworldly presence might serve more efficiently as a metaphor for the Mexican social atavisms he has been so brilliantly exposing in his films since his 2005 feature debut Sangre. The Untamed tones down the violence that shocked in Heli (2013) or Los Bastardos (2008) in favour of a more diffuse atmosphere of sadness and despair that still succeeds to convey Escalante’s powerful social message – despite, rather than thanks to, the alien’s presence.

Pierre Kapitaniak

The untamed screens at the London Film Festival on 8, 10, 16 October 2016.



Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 September 2015

Distributor: BFI

Director: Abel Ferrara

Writers: Maurizio Braucci, Abel Ferrara, Nicola Tranquillino

Cast: Willen Dafoe, Maria de Medeiros

France, Italy, Belgium 2014

86 mins

It’s not difficult to understand why a director with a back catalogue like Abel Ferrara’s would have an attraction to fellow director Pier Paolo Pasolini. As Ferrara has said, ‘I was a student of his, of his films’, and both share a filmic vision that encompasses and embraces political/cultural transgression and social marginality. Both have chosen to walk their own path and remain as independent as possible with regard to ‘the industry’ and both are culturally engaged. Ferrara, a maker of films with a decidedly pessimistic point of view whose oeuvre has addressed rape, revenge, corrupt cops, serial killing artists, tyrannical directors, vampirism as addiction, drug trafficking, apocalyptic scenarios and sexual assault at a high political level has developed a cinematic menu that Pasolini would no doubt relish. So it is with some disappointment that Ferrara’s take on Pasolini screened in Toronto could only be met with a lacklustre response by me and the rest of the press.

Ferrara and co-writer Maurizo Braucci have chosen to eschew the usual tropes and conventions of the biopic – a narrative arc that usually takes the audience on a journey through the trials and triumphs, comprising the subject’s key life moments and clarifying just who he was and why we should be interested – by setting the entire film during Pasolini’s last hours on 2 November 1975. It was a time when the director was simultaneously dealing with the moral backlash resulting from his film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, working on his unorthodox metafictional novel Petrolio as well as his screenplay for Porno – Teo – Kolossal, giving his last ever press interviews before he was brutally murdered (or assassinated) on that fatal day – in an irony Pasolini would no doubt have savoured – the Day of the Dead in Mexico. So much territory is covered and condensed into such a small time frame that audiences who are not previously acquainted with Pasolini and his importance to 20th-century Italian culture might find it hard to engage with the film.

Pasolini is not so much an evocation or re-enactment as a poetic and impressionistic view of the man, and this structure proves to be a little too elliptical and confounding. Willem Dafoe, who bears a striking resemblance to Pasolini and is an actor who satisfyingly takes chances and seems to revel in extreme roles, has a good stab at the role but when Pasolini’s pronouncements on poetics, politics and culture come out of Dafoe’s American-accented mouth, credibility is undermined. Though Dafoe tries hard with his spoken Italian in certain scenes (the film bounces in and out of English/Italian) this compromise for English-speaking audiences weakens the film considerably (there is apparently an all-Italian version for the home market). Personally, I would have preferred subtitles.

Dafoe in an interview stated: ‘I didn’t “play” him. I just tried to be his flesh, his voice, his presence in the last days of his life… Like with Jesus: I wasn’t playing THE Jesus, I was playing a Jesus… we set out to make a portrait.’ The issue here is that this ‘portrait’ is fragmentary and revealed in various non-sequential vignettes: great for the arthouse crowd but probably anathema to any general audiences, and it can be assumed that Ferrara and team are hoping for a wider audience than some of his previous films got. The ‘facts’ of Pasolini the man in Pasolini the movie are revealed through conversations, voice-overs, random thoughts, gay cruising and lunch with his beloved mother.

Indulgently perhaps, a major sequence of a film within a film occurs wherein a once-a-year sexual orgy between gay men and lesbians takes place, a lovingly imagined scene from the screenplay of Porno – Teo – Kolossal – which was of course never made. In spite of being well-imagined and shot in a Pasolini sort of way, this inclusion/intervention by Ferrara seems to either be a misguided homage or a bit of a conceit for him to want to film. Is he saying that he and Pasolini are cinematic soulmates? If so, I am afraid to say that the directors here are mismatched. There are other cinematic accounts of Pasolini – Ebbo Demant directed the documentary Das Mitleid ist gestorben (1978) about Pasolini and Stefao Battaglia made Re: Pasolini (2005) – and my regretful feeling about this new effort was that – however sincere, unsentimental and heartfelt – Abel Ferrara was not really the director to make a film version of the phenomenon that was Pier Paolo Pasolini.

This review is part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

James B. Evans

The Gospel according to Matthew

The Gospel according to Matthew

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: Eureka (Masters of Cinema)

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Writer: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Original title: Il vangelo secondo Matteo

Cast: Enrique Irazoqui, Marcello Morante, Settimio di Porto, Otello Sestili

Italy 1964

137 mins

I would recommend watching Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew only if you really fancy seeing the story of Christ played out in Italian (I did): the rewards otherwise are thin, even for Pasolini fans. The material looks good on paper: Matthew’s gospel is one of the great poetic and dramatic texts of human literature, and a wellspring of Western thought and expression. But its drama is more of action than words: most of the speech is monologue. There are flashes of genuine dialogue in the film, as when Christ debates with the Pharisees, or when Peter denies his master. The scenes with Judas and John the Baptist are good value: we see people vying with each other, rather than just being witnesses. But the great Pilate scene is thrown away, played as a ceremonial in long shot. And most of the rest of the talk is Jesus (or John, or occasionally an angel) holding forth, while others look on in awe or consternation. The visions of the holy land (Apulia) and its inhabitants are memorable, but the cinematography is more effective in portrait mode than landscape, which tends to the murky.

Enrique Irazoqui was a Spanish economics student, discovered by Pasolini at a political meeting and cast as Jesus for his first acting role at the age of 20. No pressure! He is strong on luminous intensity: he stands out convincingly from the typically rough-hewn (and unmistakably Italian-looking) cast assembled by Pasolini. His vocal power is impressive too (unless you read the small print and see that he was overdubbed by another actor). But this Jesus does have the air of a brilliant student who knows it and patronizes his classmates and teachers, with a trace of a smug smile on his lips. There’s something dispiriting in hearing the beautiful words of the Sermon on the Mount on the lips of a prig. Some viewers have managed to see the film as a Marxist document, and certainly there is something of the humourless zeal of the ideologue about this Jesus, but there’s no particular political insight or edge here, none at least that isn’t already in the Gospel.

Despite the fact that Pasolini was an atheist, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that his art is here reined in by reverence. Or perhaps respect: after all, his mother was watching - he roped her in to play the mother of God! Anyway, the enfant terrible is on his Sunday best behaviour. One might perhaps take as a warning the lengthy lists of Catholic awards with which the film comes fore-garlanded. I dread to think what other cinematic fare the berobed papal prize committee sat through: I doubt that it was a close finish with Goldfinger. Pasolini’s adherence to the Gospel text is unwavering. No sex: Mary Magdalene is anonymous (25 years to wait for Barbara Hershey). Salome’s dance consists in wafting around what looks like something you might grow on a trellis. The expression on Herod’s face at the end suggests ‘Is that it?’ The only character likely to stir any loins in this drama is the angel, who looks like someone Caravaggio would have taken an interest in.

Peter Momtchiloff