The filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini did die, and under grim criminal circumstances at that, back in 1970. But did he say the truth? Pasolini fans, usually the liveliest bunch among all Italian cinephiles, might consider looking for answers in Whoever Says the Truth Shall Die. The hour-long Dutch documentary appeared in 1981, six years after Pasolini’s untimely passing. Director Philo Bregstein looks backward from the point of Pasolini’s death, attempting to analyze his subject’s life, especially its end. He does this by looking closely — and, given its often-unpleasant imagery, most famously in Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, looking unflinchingly — at his body of work, cinematic and otherwise.
Bregstein also talks to Pasolini’s fellow Italian creators, like writer Alberto Moravia, actress Laura Betti, journalist-politician Maria Antonietta Macciocch, and director Bernardo Bertolucci. The word “creator” may suit Pasolini himself better than any other title: in a 53-year-long life, he managed to leave his mark on not just film but poetry, literature, journalism, philosophy, theater, visual art, and politics. Bresgstein also examines the ever-shifting sets of ideas that drove Pasolini to enter so many cultural fields, including a kind of atheistic world-worship and a criticism of how our forms of expression deform our thoughts. We may think of him as a tireless provocateur, but a great deal of Pasolini’s motivation to shake us all up came out of his infatuation with the philosophy of language, whether applied to Italian, English, or cinema itself.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.