Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Cinema of Transgression

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How the director’s cinematic language refuses to conform.

Film creates its own kind of language by which we navigate and explore the world and our place in it. Within that language there are hundreds of dialects each attributable to specific directors: the way Martin Scorsese tells a story is not the same way Federico Fellini tells one, each man has their own lexicon of narrative and visual elements they employ in particular syntax to convey their message and themes.

Some filmic authors are straightforward with their language, they tell stories the way we expect them to be told and about things we expect them to be about, and then some authors are more transgressive, they view the normal narrative parameters as things to be breached, moved beyond, and subverted, even to an extent some might consider offensive. Hands down one of the most prominent of these latter sorts of authors is Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who has a penchant for taking classic stories – De Sade’s Salo, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio’s Il Decameron, Arabian Nights, and The Bible’s The Gospel According to St. Matthew – and transgressing their existing forms, in the process turning them into something wholly his own that still resonates with the stories we know, creating a more massive emotional impact.

In the latest video essay from Luiza Liz for her Art Regard YouTube Channel, Pasolini’s transgressive cinema is explored in the intricate and erudite detail we have come to expect from Ms. Liz. She goes beneath what we see on the screen to reveal how Pasolini builds his particular worlds and the cinematic language he employs to describe them. Though certainly an esoteric and polarizing filmmaker, Pasolini is more than subversion, more than perversion, even, but a vital and unique storyteller who deserves to be experienced by everyone at least once. If you’re not familiar with his work, this essay is a nice primer to pique your interest, and if you are familiar, prepare to have your appreciation augmented.

A word of warning, though: as you might expect, parts of this are totally NSFW (depending on where you work, I guess) on account of some full frontal nudity and the like, so watch with discretion, but also with feverish attention. Liz’s translation of Pasolini’s transgression is more than worthy of it.

Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist