In a letter to novelist Alberto Moravia, Pasolini muses over the form he is creating for his new novel, a collage of poetry, essays and letters, essential the modus operandi of the film itself. "Narrative art is dead," he intones at one point, "and we are in a period of mourning". Pasolini is a troubled man, seeing in the violence around him an impending threat. As he tells journalist Furio Colombo (Francesco Siciliano), in what is destined to be his last interview, "We are all in danger". Beyond the uncanny physical resemblance, Dafoe plays the role to perfection. The reserved type, Pasolini is always thinking of some other act of creation and Ferrara replicates this with a series of interludes - a young man having some rough trade on the beach, an enactment of his Porno-Teo-Kolossal, a final unmade script idea he was working on at the time of his death - intersperse the more straightforward day in the life.
Ferrara's reverence for Pasolini is unquestionable, taking Pier Paolo's writings as a starting point for Maurizio Braucci's screenplay and casting several of Pasolini's entourage in key roles including Accatone (1961) star Asti. However, there is a sense that Ferrara's sense of the iconoclastic director is as much to do with his iconic status as his ideas. Pasolini rails against possessions but is himself defined by his sunglasses, his clothes and his sports car. Likewise, Rome is filmed as a strangely airless and depopulated city. The late night restaurants are empty but for Pasolini, almost as if he's already dead. As Pasolini - both Ferrara film and character - motor into the darkness and towards a kind of blank brutality, what we're left with is a demanding, bold and enigmatic work. One feels its subject would have admired the boldness of its conception, if perhaps not its overly slick execution.
The 71st Venice Film Festival takes place from 27 August to 6 September 2014. For more coverage, follow this link.