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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
The Gospel According to Abel Ferrara
by Donald Levit

By far the best is the absolute end, in fact after the visual end and over white-on-black credits: the soprano of a Maria Callas who had been acclaimed as the Italian director’s 1970 Medea. In a U.S. première at the New York Film Festival, the other eighty-seven minutes of Abel Ferrara’s European Pasolini is as much a jumble as the subject’s own brand of philosophical-mystical-contrarian Freudian-Marxist-religiosity.

Like that of Sal Mineo, the 1975 slaying of novelist, essayist, poet, journalist, screenwriter, auteur and provocateur Pier Paolo Pasolini has not been satisfactorily clarified, although this worshipful semi-biopic does an acceptable few minutes’ job depicting it as a gay bash gone further than usual.

Up to that point, however, the script taken from “an idea by Abel Ferrara and Nicola Tranquillino” would have it both ways, or every which way, and cannot decide.

Willem Dafoe’s throwback glasses are meant to convey the intellectual side, as his character types, handwrites, ponders and pontificates, voiceovers and grants interviews with serious silliness like “narrative art is dead, my tale is a parable of the relation of the author to the form he creates.”

Feeling his way for meaning in the deadness of life where “we’re all in danger,” when he is not supposed to be wrestling with his own bourgeois bogeymen demons, he cruises for young men in the Alfa Romeo which will deliver the coup de grace at Ostia beach..

In between globe hopping, he is surrounded by a limited intimate circle of love walling off the ecclesiastical, governmental and societal institutions which do not love him. There is comfort in friends at restaurants and at home, personal secretaries, some fellow filmmakers, admirers and, most of all, his “Mamita” Susanna (Adriana Asti), who had played the elderly Virgin Mary in her son’s indisputably great film, the stark and uncharacteristically not insistent on violence and sex The Gospel According to St. Matthew (which was also graced by the Missa Luba.).

The other side, perhaps somehow connected (or not) via a letter and MS asking for an opinion, is the peripatetic light-to-dark-to-light journey and observations of cherubic bow-tied curly white-haired Epifanio (Ninetto Davoli) and, confusingly but maybe his earlier self, cherubic curly black-haired Ninetto Davoli (Riccardo Scarmacio). The latter lugging weightless suitcases, they, too, cruise the Roman lower depths, although innocently in this case, and wind up invited to witness the annual Feast of the Fertility out of Pasolini’s sensationalist last movie, adapted from De Sade, Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom. After this graphic straight and gay voyeuring, they are vouchsafed visions of planets, stars, heaven and, one assumes, godly revelation or salvation, all from what look like subway stairs.

Fellow director-critic of modern life Michelangelo Antonioni classified his countryman’s murder as “a perfect tragedy foreseen -- in the end he was the victim of his own characters.” Whatever the estimate of Pasolini as man and artist, he is in this jumbled film the victim of hagiographic mishmash.

(Released by Europictures; not rated by MPAA.)

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