We The Italians | Italian entertainment: Pasolini, the provocative director that Italy was not ready to understand

Italian entertainment: Pasolini, the provocative director that Italy was not ready to understand

Italian entertainment: Pasolini, the provocative director that Italy was not ready to understand

  • WTI Magazine #149 Mar 19, 2022
  • 361

"Only loving and knowing counts. Not having loved, not having known". It would be enough to contextualize this sentence to understand how brilliant, divisive and provocative Pier Paolo Pasolini has been for Italian culture.

Writer, linguist, director, poet, he was born on March 5, 1922 in Bologna, Emilia Romagna, exactly 100 years ago. Because of his father's gambling addiction, he often had to move from house to house at a young age, and this had an influence on the artist, emblem of free thought without pre-established affiliations. He studies in Bologna and graduates in letters; publishes to its expenses Poesie a Casarsa (1942), his first work, in friulan dialect. He experiences in his youth the weight of the impossibility to express his own opinions under the fascist regime, an experience that will bring him, after the war, to join the Italian Communist Party, despite the fact that his brother had been killed during WW2 by a group of Slovenian communists.

His rebellious, revolutionary and sensitive soul clashes with the reality of Italy at that time. His homosexuality will be experienced first by him and then by others in a negative way. In 1949 he receives the first of 33 complaints for having had consensual sexual relations with boys in his country: although none of the families had filed a complaint, he will still be investigated and the Communist Party expelled him from the party. This is the first of a long series of ups and downs that Pier Paolo Pasolini will face, because he will have to leave his town and his job as a middle school teacher.

He moves to Rome in the outskirts of the city of the time: the suburbs. These were areas of very poor shacks, which arose in post-war Italy spontaneously where poor proletarians lived, as well as prostitutes and street criminals. Pasolini listens to their stories and publishes in 1955 Ragazzi di vita (The Ragazzi), a book entirely dedicated to these figures of the Roman underworld that become epic heroes. Even the language faithfully reproduces the expressions of the characters, which are therefore colorful and vulgar. It authentically tells of suburban raids and violence, and moves public opinion for its cruelty, so that Pasolini himself will have to undergo a trial for pornography. The book makes him famous, begins to attend the salons of the Roman literati who appreciate his siding without ideologies with the poorest ones.

In 1957 he published perhaps his most significant collection of poems: Le ceneri di Gramsci has a colloquial and narrative style that denounces the homologation of the average man in the consumer society. This was to be the beginning of a journey that would see Pasolini repeatedly lash out against consumerism, which in his opinion was guilty of destroying various particular realities.

Pasolini is a far-sighted observer, who adapts his thinking and makes it evolve. He remains faithful to certain principles and makes certain struggles his own, but he is no longer the revolutionary dreamer who joined the Italian Communist Party after World War II. He understands that the most direct way to represent reality is through films and not through books, which he will continue to write, though. His cinema is deeply provocative and wants to highlight the decadence and vices of society.

He debuted with Accattone (1961), a film about a man who is maintained by a prostitute. The film is obviously targeted by censorship, which for the first time in the history of Italy will mark the vision prohibited to minors under 18 years. Subsequently, along the same lines as this film, he will produce Ricotta (1963) in which he desecrates the festivity of those times involving religion and which will earn him four months in prison and censorship. We must also remember Il Decameron (The Decameron), a 1971 very raw film on sexuality that will bring him the record of 80 complaints. The more the public is scandalized by his works, the more Pasolini goes on with his path.

In 1968 he will be the protagonist of a bitter discussion with the intellectuals of the left and the organizers of student protests. In the clashes between police and students, he will take the side of the police because they actually were the children of the proletariat, while the students were bourgeois children of wealthy families who play to make a fake revolution.

His death is emblematic of what was his path: he will be found dead in 1975 in the Ostia beach, near to Rome. Mystery and violence hover over his death: he was brutally beaten, perhaps because of his homosexuality. His life was cut short at 53 by the violence of those who did not understand him, by those who saw a danger in the provocation and contradiction of a free man. A free and far-sighted thinker and director that Italy of that time was not ready to fully understand. But that today would have had a different end, because Italy has been able to evolve also thanks to the legacy of a great mind like his.