Italian Film Director Pantheon:
Fellini Antonioni Rossellini
Moretti Visconti De Sica

Pasolini is inarguably Italy’s, and the perhaps even the world’s, most controversial and provocative director. His career is marked with controversy followed by controversy. Pasolini’s lifestyle, likewise, was the root of much scorn since he was openly homosexual in a country and at a time opposed to this. It was also speculated that Pasolini often enjoyed the flavors of the young prostitutes he so poignantly depicted in his films. Finally, his death caused an international sensation and many believe that the eccentric director had arranged it himself. Despite this, he has earned a coveted place alongside Italy’s other film gods.

Pier Paolo Pasolini was born on March 6, 1922 in Bologna, Italy. He was a renowned artist, art historian, poet, philosopher, novelist, and film theorist/semiotician, but he is best remembered for his film making and poetry.

Pasolini published his first book of poems Poesie a Casarsa when he was only 19. A year later he was drafted into the army. Towards the end of World War II when his regiment was captured by the Germans, he fled to the town of Casarsa, where he remained for several years. He joined the communist party in 1946 but he was expelled for moral indignity 3 years later.

Eventually, Pasolini completed his studies, which had been cut short by the war and in 1950 moved to Rome to work as a teacher. He lived in the city’s slums and spent most of his time with the pimps, prostitutes and various other members of the underworld. He was arrested several times with his friends and spent some time in jail. His experiences in the slums of Rome became the basis for his first novel Ragazzi di vita, for which he was prosecuted on obscenity charges.

In the late 1950’s, Pasolini continued to write about the slum conditions and at the same time was making his mark as a poet, winning the prestigious Viareggio Prize. He also worked as an editor for an avant garde magazine called Officina. At this time he started collaborating with various directors, including Fellini, on several scenarios.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that Pasolini began to concentrate solely on film. His first film, Accatone, was met with the same indignation and moral outrage as his first novel. It was often cited as proof for the need for greater censorship. The film was shot in the slums of Rome, using non- professional cast and despite the controversy it won top prizes at the Montreal and Karlovy Vary film festivals. Mama Roma, his second film met with equal success, winning Italy's Silver Ribbon and the International Critics' Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

In 1963 Pasolini collaborated with Jean Luc Godard , Roberto Rossellini and Ugo Gregoretti on the anthology, RoGoPaG. His segment, which starred Orson Wells, as a director attempting to make a film about Jesus, was considered blasphemous and not only was it banned, but the director himself was arrested and given a four month suspended sentence.

Pasolini’s next work is perhaps best remembered for the uproar it didn’t cause. The Gospel According to Matthew, was a gritty, real life portrayal of the life of Christ. The international film community, the Church and the authorities were certainly not expecting a movie so poignant and honest. Or so unoffensive. The film won the grand prize from the International Catholic Film Office and is considered by many one of the greatest biblical adaptations ever created. Considering the content of his later films, this is most ironic.

Pasolini's film career would then alternate distinctly personal (and often scandalously erotic) adaptations of classic literary texts, Oedipus Rex, The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales and Arabian Nights, with his own more personal projects, expressing his controversial views on Marxism, atheism, fascism and homosexuality, notably Teorema (1968)

Pasolini is not for everyone. His style is certainly unique, but I never found it inspiring. I have to say that watching The Canterbury Tales was perhaps one of the most painful experiences of my life. For those of you who grew up in Toronto and had the opportunity in the 1980’s to sneak a glance at City TV late on Saturday night (and we both know what you were hoping to see), there is a good chance that the racy, incomprehensible Italian movie you remember was one of Pasolini’s. Yes the ones involving men with their pants around their ankles chasing giggling nuns through the chicken coup.

His second to last film, Arabian Nights, led many to believe that perhaps Pasolini was moving away from the direction of his earlier films. The film was tame in comparison and won a special award at the Cannes Festival. His final film, however, proved otherwise.

120 Days of Sodom, based on the book by the Marquis De Sade, is set in post war Germany. It tells about the gruesome atrocities suffered by a group of boys and girls at the hands of Nazi soldiers. It is considered one of the most horrific films ever made. It was banned in Italy and many other countries.

When studying Pasolini during the course of an Italian Film seminar at university, one of my fellow students asked why this movie was not on our syllabus since it was such an a major film of his. The professor told us that in the previous years, most students had walked out of the showing, one had fainted and another thrown up. She felt that to expose us to this film was unnecessary to our understanding as a whole, but that we were free to rent it on our own. Needless to say, I never bothered. There are some images I just don’t need in my memory bank of images.

On November 2, 1975, Pasolini was violently murdered. This homicide was never solved and created intense speculation and controversy. After the murderer, later speculated to be one of Pasolini’s young male lovers, bludgeoned him to death, he repeatedly drove over his body in Pasolini’s own Alfa Romeo.

“It has been noted that his death served as a tragically appropriate coda to his art.”


  • The 120 Days of Sodom (1975)
  • Arabian Nights (1974)
  • The Canterbury Tales (1971)
  • Notes Towards an African Orestes (1970)
  • The Decameron (1970)
  • Medea (1970)
  • Love and Anger (1969)
  • Appunti per un film indiano (1969)
  • Pigpen (1969)
  • Caprice Italian Style (1968)
  • Teorema (1968)
  • Oedipus Rex (1967)
  • The Witches (1969)
  • Hawks and Sparrows (1966)
  • Il Padre selvaggio (1965)
  • Assembly of Love (1964)
  • The Gospel According to Matthew(1964)
  • La Rabbia (1963)
  • Let's Have a Brainwash (1962)
  • Mamma Roma (1962)
  • Accattone (1961)

Sources: IMDb, Yahoo Movies

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