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Abel Ferrara’s new film Pasolini premieres Thursday in Venice before moving on to the Toronto and New York film festivals. The film stars Willem Dafoe as the controversial Italian director. It takes place on the last day of Pasolini’s life, mixed with new footage shot from his last screenplay and unfinished novel.
The very first question at a press conference for the film, packed wall-to-wall with journalists, asked Ferrara to clarify a statement he had made to Italian media in March after the film’s wrap: “I know who killed him.”
“I never said that I knew who killed him. That was a great misquote by a journalist,” Ferrara told the assembled media. “Which one of you guys misquoted me? I know it was somebody here,” he joked.
Few can argue that any Italian director had a greater impact on the history of cinema than Pasolini. His gruesome death shocked the nation, and is still the subject of controversy today.
On November 2, 1975, Pasolini was savagely murdered, beaten and run over by his own car in Ostia after he picked up a male prostitute, Pino Pelosi. Forensic evidence showed that the boy was not acting alone. Pelosi was convicted with “unknown others,” yet the case was closed, and he alone went to prison.
The case was reopened in 2005 after Pelosi retracted his confession, saying it was made under threats of violence to his family. Conspiracy theorists suggest that it could have been part of a larger hit by the fascists Pasolini had so openly attacked. Other evidence shows that Pasolini may have been killed by an extortionist who had rolls of his final film, Salo. The judge involved found insufficient evidence to keep the case open, and the mystery remains unsolved.
But for Ferrara, the movie isn’t about Pasolini’s death. “The point of this film is about his life and his work and his passion, his compassion,” he said. “Like he said, ‘in one’s death, one’s life.’ I was just trying to use that.”
Ninetto Davoli, Pasolini’s frequent collaborator and sometime partner, who also stars in the film, also denied stories that Pasolini saw his own death coming. “Many have said that he wrote about his death,” the actor said. “It’s not true. He loved living.”
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