NYFF: ‘Pasolini’ and ‘The Princess of France’ Misstep

nyff52NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: Greetings once again from Lincoln Center and the site of the 52nd annual New York Film Festival! Another week of screenings have begun, with two titles in particular the focus today (I also have seen Two Days, One Night but I’ll be holding off on a review until its actual release date…I liked it a lot though). They were both rather underwhelming ones, despite my initial interest in the pair. One is the biopic Pasolini while the other is revisionist take on Shakespeare of sorts The Princess of France, and neither did it for me one bit.

dafoePasolini
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

You’d think that it would be hard to make the life of filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini boring, but director Abel Ferrara (who’s almost never boring) somehow achieves that level of mediocrity. Despite a strong performance by Willem Dafoe in the title role, Pasolini is a chore. I found it a struggle to sit through, despite the constant potential inherent in the story. At almost every single turn, Ferrara torpedoes the chances of Pasolini by giving Dafoe just about nothing to do. The man who made Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom couldn’t possibly be as boring as this movie makes him out to be. The worst part is, I’m pretty sure it thinks it’s fascinating and revealing. This was an NYFF screening I was really looking forward to, but boy was I let down.

When we meet Pier Paolo Pasolini (Dafoe), he’s giving an interview in which he claims he enjoys riling people up. The clip he’s working on from what would be his final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom shows that he’s not joking either. A flashback to his youthful days shows the potentially dark nature of his sexual preferences, something that will come into play when his life comes to an end (he was notoriously found dead…the movie makes a claim as to how he died, but it’s not known if that was the true way or not). He also writes a letter to a colleague asking him to read the novel Petrolio that he’s finished, one that is recreated on screen. Sadly, that’s done in a bland way as well.

The best part of this film is Willem Dafoe, along with the operatic soundtrack. Dafoe looks the part of the director and is very committed to the role. Sadly though, he sounds all wrong, barely giving off an Italian vibe while everyone else is subtitled. In a more interesting movie, this might not have bothered me much, but here it bugged me in a big way. Ferrara has been in a rut for quite some time now it seems, and this isn’t going to get him out of it either. The cast also includes Ninetto Davoli and Riccardo Scamarcio, but only Dafoe is memorable. I just wish he was given more to do.

Overall, Pasolini is a disappointedly empty look at a fascinating individual. There’s a version of this movie that could have been awesome, and I’ll even say that Ferrara could have done it, but it just wasn’t what was unveiled here at the New York Film Festival. Bland and often pointless, Pasolini underwhelms in just about every way that it can. I was incredibly disappointed, and should you check this one out, you likely will be as well.

(★★)
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08iht-locarno08A-master675The Princess of France
Director: Matias Pineiro

I often have a hard time with reinterpretations of Shakespeare, but I’m always up for a new take. Sadly, The Princess of France is one of the harder ones to sit through that I’ve seen in a long time. Bland visuals, a languid pacing that betrays an under 80 minute running time, and a sense that the concept is more important than the execution highlights the latest from Matias Pineiro. This is my first Pineiro film, so perhaps I’m just unimpressed by his style, but I wasn’t alone here at the New York Film Festival. For the most part, very few people were moved by The Princess of France, to say the least.

Partly a recreation of the William Shakespeare play Love’s Labour’s Lost, we follow Victor (Julian Larquier Tallarini) as he attempts to take the group that put on that production a year ago and pull it off once again as a radio telecast. As if the machinations of that wouldn’t be enough, basically every actress in the cast is in love with Victor. He’s got a current girlfriend, an ex, a lover, and a friend who wants more. Each of them has a strong desire for him, while he only sometimes seems aware. There’s a farce like aspect to that, but it’s not treated as such. You’re seemingly supposed to actually care about Victor’s personal life, as well as the recordings of Shakespeare’s play, which takes up long stretches of time and is shot as blandly as possible.

There’s no one in the cast worth citing much, including the aforementioned Julian Larquier Tallarini. Co-stars like Agustina Muñoz, Alessio Rigo de Righi, and María Villar don’t leave any impact, though Pineiro is partly to blame. His style just seems to ignore the actors and actresses way too much for my tastes. I can admit that he’s got a certain style to him, but it’s just not an appealing one right now. Perhaps he’ll develop it in the next few years, but right now I can’t get excited about his work.

The Princess of France is thankfully rather short, but it doesn’t feel short at all. The first few minutes hint at something potentially interesting, but soon enough that disappears and you’re just left with mediocrity for the next hour and change. No sir, I didn’t like it.

(★★)

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!