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Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona exhibition looks at filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini on the set of Accatone, 1961. Angelo Pennoni / © Reporters Associati - Roma.

BARCELONA.- The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona presents the exhibition PASOLINI ROMA, a project shared by the CCCB, the Cinémathèque française in Paris, the Azienda Palaexpo–Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Pasolini Roma is a project selected, assessed and financed by the European Commission to represent the European, transnational, topical nature of Pasolini’s work and the project in itself.

The show looks at the Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-1975) by means of his relations with Rome. And this examination involves entering into all the aspects that comprised and defined Pasolini: poetry, politics, commitment to city life, sex, friendship and cinema.

PASOLINI ROMA is divided into six chronological sections that correspond to six phases in the life and creation of Pier Paolo Pasolini. It opens with his arrival in Rome on 28 January 1950 and closes on 2 November 1975, when his lifeless body was found near Ostia.

For Pasolini, Rome was not just a backdrop or a place to live. Rome had a physical, carnal, passionate existence. The meeting with Rome was, for the artist, like a great love story with its disappointments, its mixed feelings of love and hate, and the phases of attraction, rejection and estrangement.

For Pasolini the analyst of the evolution of Italian society, Rome was his principal observatory, his constant field of study, reflection and struggle. The transformations of the city informed his analysis of changes in the Italy and the Italians of the sixties and seventies.

There is a Rome before and a Rome after Pasolini. His articles and films created a new imaginary for the city of Rome. Pasolini was not content to use the city as a backdrop for his novels and films; he “recreated” Rome, using literature and film. Like a great creator, he devised a new myth of this political and Vatican city, its neighbourhoods and its inhabitants.

The variety and intensity of the original materials on show highlight Pasolini’s testimony and creativity, and aim to bring the voice of this prolific, multifaceted creator into the exhibition.

It presents original manuscripts of screenplays, storyboards, poems, novels, essays and articles; correspondence with friends and other intellectuals and artists, Pasolini’s own drawings and paintings, excerpts from his films, interviews and documentaries, photographs, maps of Rome, installations, etc. It also includes works by various painters (Mario Mafai, Giorgio Morandi, Ottone Rosai, Giuseppe Zigaina, Renato Guttuso, Filippo De Pisis and Giorgio de Chirico), artists who were particularly dear to the author and mentioned in his body of work.


In which Pasolini arrives in the station in Rome with his mother Susanna, in January 1950, with neither honour nor employment. In which he lives in the ghetto before taking refuge in a poor house in a poor neighbourhood, near a big prison. In which he starts to work as a teacher for a miserable wage. In which he swings between despair and enthusiasm. In which he discovers the free, pagan eroticism of the ragazzi of Rome.

Pasolini arrived in the station in Rome with his mother in January 1950. The young poet had been expelled from the public education system and the Communist Party, accused of having had sexual encounters with adolescents in Ramuscello, in the Friuli of his childhood, in northern Italy. He was later cleared of these accusations.

He lived provisionally with a family of friends of his uncle, in the city centre, but soon moved to a poor quarter near Rebibbia prison.

This period of poverty was cheered by the exultant sensation that “Rome is divine”. He discovered the marginalized population of the borgate (suburbs), their language, their subculture and their violent vitality. An unknown world that was to become his principal source of literary and cinematographic creation.

Here he discovered free, immediate sexuality with the ragazzi of Rome. In the company of the writer Sandro Penna, he frequented the embankments of the Tiber, one of his symbolic and poetic points of reference.

In which Pasolini, with Ragazzi di vita, makes his appearance at the forefront of Rome’s intellectual life. In which he starts to write for other directors’ films. In which he ventures into the centre of Rome. In which he establishes lasting friendships with fellow travellers Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. In which he meets Laura Betti.

With the publication of Ragazzi di vita, in 1955, Pasolini made his noisy entry into the public circles of the intellectual and artistic life of Rome. He brought to Italian literature the slang of the streets and the whores of the borgate and the Roman dialect. The book caused a scandal, but his new writer friends defended it.

He started work on screenplays for Soldati, Fellini, Bolognini and others. He got to know the people who were to become his best and most constant friends, Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. He met Laura Betti, singer and actress, who was to remain by him throughout his life, acting in his films and plays, and was the kingpin of his social life in Rome.

His new income enabled him to buy his first car and leave the remote district of Rebibbia to move to Monteverde, where he settled in 1954.

In which Pasolini, at the age of 39, makes his first film, Accattone, with no knowledge of filmmaking technology. In which he makes his trilogy about the Rome of the borgate, whose voice he has become. In which he films with the quintessential Roman, Anna Magnani. In which the prosecutions against him pile up. In which he meets an important person for his love life.

Pasolini, man of letters, made his film debut with Accattone (1961). Before starting filming, Pasolini travelled to India with Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante. This journey played a vital part in his continuing fascination with the Third World.

His Rome trilogy (Accattone, Mamma Roma and La ricotta) was the product of the love he felt for the lumpen proletariat to whom he gave voice in his first novels. The districts of Testaccio, Pigneto, Tuscolana and Parco degli Acquedotti made a lyrical entry into Italian cinema.

Anna Magnani played the leading role in his second film, Mamma Roma (1962).

La ricotta, filmed in late 1962, was at the centre of a high-profile blasphemy trial. From this point up until his murder, Rome was to be the city of courtrooms for Pasolini. He fought 33 trials that attempted to silence his analytical, critical, controversial voice.

While filming La ricotta he met a young man from the borgate, Ninetto Davoli, a carpenter’s apprentice, who was to be the great love of his life.

In which Pasolini settles in a new residential area in the south of Rome. In which he starts to seek in other places everything that Rome no longer gives him. In which he drives the length and breadth of Italy, microphone in hand, for an investigative film. In which he decides not to film his Gospel in Palestine. In which he takes a growing interest in the Third World.

Pasolini left the centre of Rome for a quiet residential district, the EUR, planned by Mussolini, where in early 1963 he bought an apartment.

He filmed Uccellacci e uccellini (The Hawks and the Sparrows, 1965-1966), played by Totò and Ninetto Davoli, who ranged the periphery, drifting further and further away from the centre to explore what was left of the Roman countryside in the mid-1960s.

Pasolini’s life continued to revolve around Rome, though he began to move away from it towards the south of Italy (the setting for The Gospel According to Matthew, 1964), India, where he had made a major trip with Moravia in 1961, and Africa.

In March 1963, Pasolini started work on a film to research a taboo theme for the Vatican, Comizi d’amore (Love Meetings). He drove around Italy, microphone in hand, asking Italians about their views of sexuality. Filming took him to Milan, Palermo, Modena, Bologna, Florence, Rome, Naples and Catanzaro.

The Gospel according to Matthew, dedicated to Pope John XXIII, caused controversy at the Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize, but Pasolini had had his sights set on the Golden Lion, won by Antonioni’s Deserto rosso.

In which, for Pasolini, a period of disappointment and disenchantment begins. In which he writes all of his plays during a month’s convalescence. In which he feels closer to the police than to the students of 1968. In which he renounces the innocent eroticism of bodies in his Trilogy. In which Paris becomes the intellectual counterpoint to Rome. In which he discovers New York. In which he works with Maria Callas, and goes to Greece on holiday.

One night in March 1966, he was admitted urgently to hospital due to bleeding caused by an ulcer. While convalescing, he wrote the six plays that represent practically all of his work for the stage.

It also marked the start of his disenchantment with Rome. He noted the destructive effects of the consumer society. He saw the corruption of the Roman lumpen proletariat culture on which he had built part of his literary and cinematographic work. He thought that all Italy was becoming petit bourgeois, with the exception, perhaps, of Naples, which he said had not changed. He was deeply affected by the death of Totò, who, since Uccellacci e uccellini, had been the source of the humorous vein in his short films.

In 1971, Davoli announced his marriage. Pasolini was plunged into a deep depression.

In this period of general disillusion, the only respite was meeting Maria Callas, to whom in 1969 he gave the leading role in the film Medea and with whom he struck up a unique relationship of deeply loving friendship.

Between 1970 and 1974, he filmed Trilogy of Life in the hope of recreating the lost pagan innocence of popular bodies he had so loved on his arrival in Rome. He travelled to England, to film The Canterbury Tales, and to Egypt, Yemen, India, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Nepal for The Thousand and One Nights.

Paris became another centre of gravity of his intellectual life. He exchanged ideas and theories with the foremost French intellectuals of the time: Jean-Paul Sartre, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz and his rival in cinema, Jean-Luc Godard.

In which he has two houses built an hour’s drive from Rome, one to the north and one to the south. In which he attacks his total novel, which was to remain unfinished. In which he makes one of the most extreme films in the history of the cinema. In which he dies, early one November morning, between a football stadium and the beach at Ostia.

Pasolini enjoyed a period of prolific creativity. He had two houses built, neither too far from nor too close to Rome, which continued to be his centre of gravity. One was in the country, in a wild area between Viterbo and Orte, the other near the sea, in Sabaudia, shared with his friend Alberto Moravia. They were long dreamed of and much desired homes where he would withdraw occasionally from life in Rome, to write, paint and rest between filming.

The two great works of this period, which unbeknown to him were to be his last, were the compendium Petrolio, which he left unfinished, and Salò, one of the most extreme films in the history of the cinema. In Petrolio, Pasolini returned to his fascination with Rome and the transformation undergone by the city in previous decades.

The filming of Salò brought him death threats, stolen negatives and political pressure. He never saw the film’s release because in the early hours of 2 November, his body was found, savagely murdered, in the port at Ostia. It is still not clear what happened that night, but the description of events in Pelosi’s confession is given no credence.

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