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Pier Paolo Pasolini. Folgorazioni figurative

text Virginia Mammoli
photo courtesy Cineteca di Bologna

April 6, 2022

Stupendous, miserable city

Roberto Chiesi, head of the Pasolini Archive of the Cineteca di Bologna, talks about one of the greatest intellectuals of all time

“Stupendous, miserable city”. This is Pier Paolo Pasolini’s description of Rome, the city where he spent decisive years of his life and which he portrayed without turning his eyes from anything, but rather directing his gaze to the very places no one had ever looked. 100 years after the birth of one of the greatest intellectuals of all time, we’re told about his Rome in life and in film by Roberto Chiesi, head of the PasoliniArchive at the Cineteca of Bologna, one of Europe’s most important film museums, and curator - along with Gian Luca Farinelli, director of the Cineteca and new president of Rome Film Fest, and Marco Antonio Bazzocchi, professor at the University of Bologna - of the exhibition Pier Paolo Pasolini. Folgorazioni figurative, promoted by the Cineteca and hosted in the new exhibition space Sottopasso di Piazza Re Enzo in Bologna,the city where Pasolini was born, until 16 October 2022.

Gian Luca Farinelli, director of the Cineteca and new president of Rome Film Fest (ph. Margherita Caprilli)Roberto Chiesi, head of the Pasolini Archive (ph. Margherita Caprilli)

Tell us about the exhibition Pier Paolo Pasolini. Folgorazioni figurative.

The aim of the exhibition is to illustrate an essential element of Pasolini’s cinematic imagery, and also of his literature and poetry: the figurative component and his love of painting (except abstract art), which originated with the courses he took with Roberto Longhi at Bologna University, in particular a unit on Masaccio, an artist who depicted the populace in a non-idealised way, in a pictorial equivalent of the marginalised world that he himself loved, his mother’s Friulian farming life. The very equipment Longhi used during the lessons left its mark: black and white slides and a projector that he identified with the cinema. Hence a cinematic style in which camera movement is minimal and characters appear front-on, as is the case with Masaccio’s religious subjects, and with bodies that are often flawed, never idealised but at the same time sacred and, in spite of this, not lacking in eroticism.

How did Pier Paolo Pasolini change cinema?

The interesting thing, which very few people know, is that Pasolini-style film making started even before Pasolini became a director. What was new was the type of milieu that Pasolini portrayed, which had never previously been described, not even with Realism: the world of the marginalised living in the slums. It was a phenomenon that first appeared with Pasolini’s collaboration on the screenplay of Mauro Bolognini’s La notte brava (1955). In this film the protagonists are two French actors; when Pasolini made his directing debut, he wanted his protagonists to be real youths from the slums. Real bodies and real faces hit the screen, turning marginalised individuals like Franco Citti (who appeared in several of Pasolini’s films, starting with the first, Accattone), into famous actors. Not forgetting that Pasolini also reinvented the classical myth, for example in Oedipus Rex, with an impact even outside Italy.

Accattone (1961)

How would you describe Pasolini’s vision of Rome?

It’s definitely the gaze of someone from the provinces who’s fascinated by the city’s extraordinary beauty. He came from Friuli and Emilia, and moving to Rome in 1950 was an invigorating experience. But, as he had always done, he immediately focused on the margins, the miserable, the common, the outcast. So he went from the world of peasants to the slums, and later devoted himself to the developing world, Africa and India.

Mamma Roma (1962)

Give us a tour of Pasolini’s places in Rome and Lazio. Where are you taking us ?

I’d start in the working class quarters of Rebibbia and Monteverde, where he lived before moving to an area that was seemingly not his own habitat, EUR. He liked the San Lorenzo district and loved to go to the Pommidoro restaurant. Later he went through a period of rejection of Rome, although he retained his ties with Lazio, and in his last years he lived in Sabaudia, until his found his final true home in Chia and was murdered on the beach at Ostia.

In his films, Pasolini showed parts of Rome that were resistant to the ruling hegemony; can you give us an example?

In Accattone we see the neighbourhoods of Pigneto, Casilina, Portuense, Appia Antica, Gordiani, Via della Marranella, the Subiaco cemetery and the Ponte degli Angeli, where the wager scene is set. In Mamma Roma we see Cecafumo, Casal Bertone, Torre Spaccata, Via Flaminia, the Sant’Eugenio hospital, EUR and Guidonia. For La ricotta, Pasolini goes to Pratone and the Roman aqueduct, while in Uccellacci e uccellini there’s the whole picaresque journey of Totò and Ninetto Davoli in the Roman suburbs of Tiburtina, Acquasanta and Cecafumo. After that film, he began working in the south, only returning to Rome to shoot connecting scenes or scenes set elsewhere. Rome reappears only in the novel  Petrolio, and it’s the Rome of the 70s, described in terms of Dante’s circles, as if to associate it with a place in hell.

Pasolini together with Totò, on the set of 'Uccellacci e uccellini' (1966)

The Pier Paolo Pasolini archive at the Bologna Cineteca preserves much more than film: there’s his writing, but also photos, recordings of radio programmes, discussions… in your view, which is the most interesting document of all?

It’s a posthumous archive established by the actress Laura Betti, a friend and colleague of Pasolini, who sought out documents relating to him all over Italy and the world. An exceptional undertaking that took 30 years. The most valuable items are definitely the original film reels donated by Beatrice Banfi, Pasolini’s secretary for many years, and also all the press reviews, a truly comprehensive archive that ranges from specialist articles to the tabloid press.

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