The Passion of Pasolini

P.P.P.: Pier Paolo Pasolini and Death

edited by Bernhart Schwenk and Michael Semff, with the collaboration of Giuseppe Zigaina
Catalog of an exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 208 pp. (2005)

Pasolini: A Biography

by Enzo Siciliano, translated from the Italian by John Shepley
Bloomsbury, 436 pp. (1982)
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini; drawing by David Levine


The murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini, like much of his life’s work, seems to have been designed expressly to provoke shock, moral outrage, and public debate. His mutilated corpse was found on a field in Ostia, just outside of Rome, on November 2, 1975. He had been repeatedly bludgeoned and then, while still alive, run over by his own car. The next day, the Roman police received a confession from a seventeen-year-old street hustler named Giuseppe Pelosi, nicknamed “Pino la Rana” (“Joey the Frog”). Pelosi claimed that Pasolini had tried to rape him, and that he had killed the famous filmmaker and writer in self-defense. But the physical evidence showed that most of Pelosi’s story had been fabricated—including, most significantly, his assertion that he and Pasolini had been alone.1

If at first Pelosi’s story did not seem far-fetched, it was only because the openly homosexual Pasolini had a well-publicized, if largely exaggerated, reputation as a sexual predator. On three occasions he had been charged with sexually assaulting underage boys—and on one of these occasions charged with armed robbery as well—but he had never been convicted. He was not secretive about his predilection for cruising, and had often been seen at the train station in Tiburtino, a well-known gay pickup site outside Rome where he had met Pelosi. Pasolini had devoted much of his life’s work—his films, novels, poems, and journalism—to Rome’s violent underworld, which he researched firsthand, so it seemed to many that after flirting with danger for so long, he had finally gone too far and been killed. If Pelosi wasn’t telling the truth about being alone with Pasolini, then perhaps his accomplices were other street hustlers and local delinquents.

But perhaps not. In view of Pasolini’s bitter public feuds with the Christian Democratic government, the fascists, the Communists, the Church, and the Mafia, many Italians suspected that Pelosi was simply a pawn in a much larger conspiracy. The theories that soon emerged were passionate and wildly divergent. Many friends of Pasolini, including Oriana Fallaci, Italo Calvino, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the actress Laura Betti, believed that he had been murdered by members of the neofascist party, which had a long history of violently assaulting him. The official neofascist newspaper, meanwhile, wrote that Pasolini had been “killed by the Marxists” for increasingly “becoming a reactionary writer.” After all, despite identifying himself as a Communist, Pasolini had battled against many of the progressive reforms of the late 1960s, speaking out against the student rebellions of 1968, feminism, sexual permissiveness, and the legalization of abortion and divorce.

A third theory implicated the Sicilian Mafia, whom Pasolini had been investigating for a documentary film about prostitution, and whom he claimed had infiltrated the upper ranks of the Christian Democratic Party. Finally, some suspected the government’s own secret service. A week before his death, Pasolini had demanded in the Corriere della Sera, Italy’s…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.