WHOEVER SAYS THE TRUTH SHALL DIE (Wie de Waarheid Zegt Moet Dood)
(director: Philo Bregstein; cinematographers: Vincent Blanchet/Al Jones/Michel Masato; editor: Mario Steenbergen; cast: Laura Betti (herself), Alberto Moravia (himself), Bernardo Bertolucci (himself), Antonietta Macciochi (herself); Runtime: 60; Vara; 1981-Netherlands)
“Pasolini, the decadent anti-fascist, pro-communist, homosexual artist, is a key figure in trying to come to grips with modern Italy and its many passions.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This is the biography of a complex and controversial artist, Pier Paolo Pasolini, born in 1922, the day Mussolini took power; he was brutally murdered on November 2, 1975, in a suburb of Rome, Ostia, supposedly, by a 17-year-old male-hustler who the authorities said resisted the sexual advances of the homosexual Pasolini.
Pasolini’s father was of royalty and served as an officer in the military, but squandered his fortune in gambling and became an ardent supporter of the fascist cause; he was detested by his son. On the contrary, his mother was an anti-fascist and was loved by her son. The aim of this documentary is to shed some more light and understanding on the life and death of the poet (“Gramsci’s Ashes”), novelist (“A Life Full of Violence”) and filmmaker (“Medea“). The documentary will not try to solve the crime but it does cast doubt if a single murderer could have done all that harm to someone like Pasolini, who had been with lower-class troubled youths his entire life and knew how to handle them. As Bernardo Bertolucci points out when questioned: there was no blood on the accused and Pasolini had his face smashed in and was run over by a car, something the accused didn’t own and couldn’t drive. All indications are that it is most likely a mob hit, and the motive for his death was not sexual but political.
The documentary spends most of its brief time, it is only an hour long, listening to three people who knew him either through work or as a friend. Laura Betti was in several of his films; Alberto Moravia, the gifted intellectual leftist writer, traveled to Morocco with him and had supper with him almost every evening; and, Antonietta Macciochi is an editor of a communist newspaper in which he wrote a free-wheeling column, which was often critical of the parties lack of tolerance.
From Moravia we learned that he didn’t like nice people, he preferred to hang out with the poor boys he met in the suburbs who were hard-edged and didn’t quite fit into society. He identfied very much with thieves. He was considered by some to be one of the great intellectual poets of the 1950s, having received much recognition for his ‘Gramsci’s Ashes.’ Moravia goes on to say that he had a yearning for Italy to have a leftist point of view, to go back to the glory days of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance. Macciochi tells how he was a Communist but was forced to resign from the party after going to court many times, accused of homosexuality and corrupting the morals of minors. She found him to be non-dogmatic philosopher, trying to appeal to the common man on the grounds that their life could be ideal. He felt that mass culture was killing the people with its consumerism and materialistic messages. Through Laura Betti’s eyes we sample a few of his films and how he interacted with the film people.
Pasolini idolized Fellini whom he wrote scripts for and who gave him a chance to shoot a film for the first time, but the script was not accepted by Fellini as a good enough work for him to use. The result was that Pasolini left Fellini and made his directorial debut in a film which covered the seamy side of life in Rome, Accattone (1961). It was different in style than other films at the time and was received very well by the critics. He concentrated on films during this period; The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) exemplifies the mystic preachings of Christ, as he politically rails against an unjust society that condones waste and corruption. For Pasolini’s Christ, sin is only a crime against daily servitude. Oedipus Rex (1967) was the film that was closest in nature to his upbringing, where the hero slays his father and sleeps with his mother. The film turned out to be visually satisfying to audiences, though not pleasing all the critics. The last film he made, was his most controversial and decadent, Salo (1975). Here he decides to tell the truth as it is–not as he imagines it is. For him, the consumer culture must keep selling their product. He compares it with Hitler’s need to collect human bodies. Pasolini attempted to make his point about current Italian society being like fascism (a bit of a stretch!).
That Pasolini should die so violent a death did not surprise everyone; especially, since he led such a non-conformist existence, one where violence always seemed to be a part of his life even though he was not a violent person himself.
The 17-year-old, Pelosi, the accused murderer, was sentenced to 9-years in jail as a youthful offender and the Italian press had a field day vilifying Pasolini for his moral decadence — almost saying that it was his fault, that his homosexuality caused the crime.
Pasolini, the decadent anti-fascist, pro-communist, homosexual artist, is a key figure in trying to come to grips with modern Italy and its many passions; this documentary provides some useful fodder about him, whether you have followed his career fully or not. Interestingly enough he was working on a book about some kind of modern Paul coming to America to sell his religious beliefs, before his brutal murder.
One thing I can say for sure about Pasolini is that he is always interesting, even if he isn’t always understood.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/99 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/