Half a century after he was brutally murdered on the beach of Ostia, the legacy and images of Pier Paolo Pasolini still live on in Italy, and in Monaco as well this Spring and Summer, because of a well-curated exhibition at NMNM-Villa Sauber titled ‘Pasolini, and chiaroscuro’. Over two floors, it shows where this visual artist got his inspiration from and who he then managed to inspire after his death. “Pasolini continues to be a source of inspiration. His legacy lives on,” Princess Caroline of Hanover writes in the exhibition catalogue.

The Italian, born in Bologna in 1922, was a special and inimitable all-rounder. He was a poet, writer, critic, and screenwriter, but above all an extraordinary filmmaker, who in the 1960s and 1970s had a certain influence on social and political life in Italy, during the so-called ‘anni di piombo’ (years of lead).

“As a writer and filmmaker, Pasolini made the world of the old masters his own in three ways – by reproducing them as tableaux vivants on screen, quoting them by echoing their composition or picking out certain key details, and hanging them on the wall of his sets,” the visitor can read in the inaugural text of the exhibition.

Excerpts from his films, including Accattone, The Gospel according to St. Matthew, Theorem, Saló and 20 days of Sodom are used, along with the art that inspired him like that of Caravaggio and El Greco. A wonderful example is the staging of the painting ‘La Deposition by Pontormo Jacopo Carnucci, in the film La Ricotta by the group RoGoPaG. In 1963, Pasolini was initially sentenced to four months in prison for insulting the state religion in this scene. That sentence was later revoked. Pasolini had to answer for his actions 33 times in his life, often for blasphemy.

It is special to see where the maestro got his inspiration from. The curator of the exhibition, Guillaume de Sardes, explains: “We wanted to show how he was inspired by classical painting and that of his time. These are, moreover, not the lucubrations of the exhibition curator. There are many interviews in which Pasolini acknowledges his debt. And photos taken on film sets, where art books accompany him.”

As a filmmaker, he was an unguided missile who did not adapt to other movements. Pasolini is remembered in Italy as a profoundly free intellectual who was sufficiently subversive to have been hated both by the right, which he radically opposed, and by the leftists of 1968, whom he castigated and who considered him a traitor. “Marxist, homosexual, denouncing corruption but very respectful of the Christian religion and not very progressive on the issue of abortion, for example, he was an ambivalent figure, which is what makes the complexity of the character,” De Sardes explains.

In one room, “Saló or 20 days of Sodom” receives special attention. In that film, from 1975, Pasolini uses a few paintings as a background in a room, including Fernard Léger’s La Baigneuse from 1932 and paintings by Giacomo Balla (Pessimismo e Ottimismo), which are shown in this exhibition. The film caused a lot of excitement on the peninsula at the time, due to some scenes with functional nudity, in a time when that was still quite prudish.

“His aim in making the film was to offer judgement on the body and the sexual mores of his days in relationship with politics. He saw such a sexuality as a metaphor for the way of capitalism takes possession of the human body… Saló is an eminently political piece of cinema,” according to the text in the room.

Pasolini was a controversial personality due to his straightforward style. His legacy remains contentious. He was openly gay, culturally conservative and became a Marxist after World War II. He wanted to defend Italian values against the ever-increasing influence of America (and capitalism) on society. Because he was not to be captured by most social movements at the time, he was also highly appreciated by the intelligentsia of Italy and then also of Europe.

The murder of Pasolini, on a beach in Ostia (near Rome) where he was tortured to death, which has never been solved to this day, caused a huge shock in the cultural world. It is suspected that he was the victim of an extreme right-wing criminal organisation because of his liberal ideas and bold films, the Banda della Magliana is often mentioned.

In the stairwell, we are reminded of this event through a collage by Giovanni Fontana named ‘Anagramma’, from the front page of the Paese-Sera on which Pasolini’s murder is reported. On the second floor, several films are shown that are inspired by the work of Pasolini, including that of filmmakers Charles des Meaux and Alain Fleischer. There are some beautiful photos of Ernest Pignon-Ernest.

‘Anagramma’ by Giovanni Fontana

The imaginative world of Pier Paolo Pasolini lives on this summer at Villa Sauber until 29 September.

Featured image courtesy of Jurriaan van Wessem: ‘La Baigneuse’ by Fernand Léger