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Pioneers of the nation: Pasolini or: Today’s man turns a hundred

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In the darkened room, nothing can be seen but the harsh high beam of the headlights. The car only becomes visible behind the cones of light when they switch to low beam. “Alfa Romeo GT veloce” is the very simple name of the installation by the Roman artist Elisabetta Benassi. Pier Paolo Pasolini owned a car of this type and of the same silver-grey.

He piloted it shortly before he was murdered in Ostia near Rome on the night of November 1st, 1975. The car, which Benassi wants to be understood as a kind of time machine that leads from the 1970s to today’s Italy, is a statement that goes beyond this statement: its light, the light of Pasolini, continues to shine in the darkness. The thinker as seer.

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An incalculable number of exhibitions, performances, discussions and retrospectives of his films are currently being devoted to the poet, director and novelist Pasolini in Italy, on the occasion of his 100th birthday. Almost half a century after his violent death, the circumstances of which have not yet been fully clarified, he is still regarded as the country’s most important post-war intellectual.

The three bodies of the poet

The Maxxi, Rome’s still young museum for art of the XXI. Century, has dedicated its retrospective and prospective to the political Pasolini and collaborates under the common title “Tutto è santo” (Everything is sacred) with two other exhibition spaces in the city, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni and the Gallerie Barberini Corsini, dedicated to the poet and just Pasolini as a seer on the subject.

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In its bold, spacious rooms, a building designed by Zaha Hadid a few tram stops from the central Piazza del Popolo, the Maxxi presents around 200 original documents, newspaper articles, letters, manuscripts, notes and interviews by Pasolini.

Pasolini’s apotheosis in the three sister shows is already evident in the title “Tutto è santo”, a quote from the sage Chiron from Pasolini’s 1969 film “Medea” with Maria Callas in the title role. According to the exhibition organizers, the respective subtitles – “the political body”, the “poetic” and the “prophetic” – take up the central role that physicality played in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s thinking.

King, saint, seer

But they also charge them with more meaning, whether they want it or not. The association with the various bodies of the king, to which Ernst Kantorowicz’s famous “Study on the Political Theology of the Middle Ages” was directed, is almost inevitable.

King, saint, seer – the by no means subtle transfiguration could provoke frowns in the more sober audience. In any case, the exhibition in the Maxxi proves the claim about Pasolini as an analyst of his time astonishingly well. For him, the show has something almost monstrous about it, as the art historian and collector Giuseppe Garrera recently admitted at its opening.

We chose 1975, not because of his death, but because it was a year of peak productivity for Pasolini.

Giovanna Melandri, director of the Maxxi Museum

Pasolini accuses the encroachment of power and consumerism, he speaks of violence and destruction. “You don’t feel like you’re in 1975, you feel like you’re in 2022.” Garrera quoted Pasolini’s words in the last interview he gave a few hours before his death.

“We are all in danger”

Marzia Migliora, one of the 19 artists whose works in Maxxi deal with Pasolini – in varying quality – has described an open space of the museum in large steel letters with these two sentences: “Maybe it’s me who’s wrong. But I won’t stop saying that we are all in danger.”

The curators Hou Hanru, Bartolomeo Pietromarchi and Giulia Ferracci used a trick for their view of the political Pasolini – the restriction to the year 1975. It was not just the year of his death, but the year of a particularly large, even restless work in texts, films, in public statements, according to the outgoing President of Maxxi, Giovanna Melandri.

The selection was the real effort on this topic, added Pietromarchi. But I also wanted to focus on this year from that fatal night of November 2nd: “His death monopolized this year, but he speaks to our present there.”

The end of the fireflies

Pasolini’s year 1975, that is his last film “Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom”, the work on “Petrolio” (oil), his novel announced as opus magnum and left as a fragment, his countless speeches, mostly in the Corriere della sera or on television, at the height of the pro-choice movement, to corruption and environmental degradation.

“Alfa Romeo GT veloce” is the name of the installation by Elisbetta Benassi, one of the works of art that accompanies the show about Pasolini at the Maxxi. He drove a car of this type to Ostia, where he was murdered a little later on the night of November 1st, 1975.
© Maxxi

The glowworm text in February of that year is famous, where he uses the example of the “lucciole” to accuse air and water pollution, especially in rural areas: “After a few years there were no more glowworms.”

“The only way to remember Pasolini is not to celebrate him, but to read and discuss him as if he were alive.

Roberto Roversi, friend of Pasolini, in the 1975 obituary

In a contribution to the informative exhibition catalogue, which was published by the Milan art publisher “5 Continents Editions”, Marco Belpoliti reviews the time outside: in addition to the debates about women’s right to decide against pregnancy, Italy experienced a wave of deadly political Force. Assassinations of activists from right and left, or who are mistaken for them, are commonplace.

When the CP invented the “Historical Compromise”.

Inflation rises to over 17 percent and the Communist Party’s results in local elections almost match those of the Democrazia Cristiana. In March 1975, KP leader Enrico Berlinguer swore his followers to what was later called a “historical compromise”: approaching all democratic parties, especially the DC, in order to save Italy’s democracy.

It’s worth the time to study the yellowing newspaper pages and PPP’s typewriter manuscripts – provided you speak enough Italian – to be alarmed: the grandchildren of those who nostalgically referred to Salò, Mussolini’s last cruel puppet republic, have been back in power in Rome for two months Regions that have been under their leadership longer are again restricting the right to abortion, which became law in Italy in 1978.

Pasolini in 1974 in Torre di Chia near Viterbo, where he last lived and worked.
Pasolini in 1974 in Torre di Chia near Viterbo, where he last lived and worked.
© Archivio Cinemazero Images, Pordenone

And on Ischia, people died these days after massive rainfall, victims of a fatal combination of climate change and illegal construction in landscapes whose resistance to extreme weather conditions under the concrete of the illegal buildings had already been broken.

The dream of the innocent country

One chance, however, remained unused in the Roman exhibitions. Critical analysis of the monstre sacré Pasolini does not take place. At the same time, it almost imposes itself in more than one place. For example, it would have been worth discussing his transfiguration of an allegedly original state of the Italian landscape.

Peasant Italy, that Friuli that Pasolini praised, stumbled bitterly poor and in many ways, also culturally, in great misery from the Kingdom of Italy to the post-war republic, only to stay there for the time being. As is Italy’s south and even the later Italian favorites of European and global Tuscany factions.


Hundred Years later, Italy has the same several times reason to commemorate – two formative personalities and a dramatic section of its history. At the end of October 1922, Benito Mussolini took power; the beginning of the ventennio, the 20 years of fascist rule in Italy and the areas subjected as colonies – the beginning of fascism in Europe at all. In this year, however, Pier Paolo Pasolini was also born and Enrico Berlinguer, perhaps the most important leader of the Italian Communist Party. Berlinguer, who died in 1984, was the mastermind and architect of their compromise with Christian democracy, des compromise historically.

The self-stylization of his proximity to the common people, the son of a bourgeois, deserves a little backlight, as does his contempt for everything bourgeois – which did not prevent him from spending his evenings in the salons of the Roman bourgeoisie.

Or PPP’s fondness for his ragazzi di vitathe boys from the sub-proletariat of the borgate, the suburbs. During his lifetime, his self-confident homosexuality made Pasolini a hate figure of the bourgeois establishment, even a hounded one.

In the exhibition on the poet’s “poetic” body, it takes an entire wall of the hall of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni for the list of umpteen lawsuits for moral offenses or pornography with which he was subjected for life.

The big intellectual and the suburban boys

An installation that is as frightening as it is evocative. It was no coincidence that after Pasolini’s death in Ostia, Italy, which favored him, spoke of the fact that he had already been killed before November 2, 1975.

Nevertheless, the unequal relationships between the great intellectual and the – even minors? – Children of the Roman borgate used to not present it to today’s audience as silently as the exhibition does.

It’s also a pity about contemporary criticism, which is only marginally encountered in the anniversary exhibition. Unlike the widely documented malice and anger of his ultra-Catholic and post-fascist enemies – impressive especially in the Palaexpo – not every opposing position aimed at the annihilation of the person Pasolini:

Pasolini as an opponent of abortion

Pasolini’s text in the Corriere della sera “I am against abortion” was mocked in 1975 by Umberto Eco, among others. Friends and colleagues like Dacia Maraini and Alberto Moravia also criticized him. The poet did not just leave it at personal confession – incidentally with interesting feminist comments on heterosexual intercourse as the core of the question – but explicitly opposed a liberal abortion law.

Despite everything that is stimulating in this Roman tribute, the impression remains: where “tutto è santo”, where everything is holy, criticism could be close to blasphemy. In doing so, however, the exhibition organizers give up their own claim, which they raise by citing a close friend of Pasolini – Giulia Ferracci quotes him in her contribution to the catalogue.

In his obituary for his colleague and friend entitled “Pasolini lives!” Roberto Roversi wrote on November 4, 1975 in the communist daily “L’Unità”: “The only way to remember Pasolini is not to celebrate him, but to read him and continue to discuss him as if he were still alive. ”

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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