While the combination of title, director and star sounds rather like the punchline to a cinephile joke, Pasolini, directed by one time exploitation filmmaker Abel Ferrara and starring the once almost A list Willem Dafoe, is indeed a film, a garbled but intriguing meditation on the final day on earth of radical Italian filmmaker and author Pier Paolo Pasolini. The film holds one’s attention largely because of its ‘what next?’ factor, and at a brief 87 minutes keeps it on the right side of tedious, although many are bound to disagree with that assessment.

Kaleidoscopic is the most apt word to describe Pasolini’s narrative, which moves between various scenarios including Pasolini being interviewed by a journalist, having lunch with his mother, receiving friends and cruising the rent boys who were his ultimate undoing. With his hair dyed black and sporting heavy black framed glasses, Dafoe bears a striking resemblance to Pasolini, but all of his scenes are in English, while scenes without him are spoken in Italian (and French), which adds another discombobulating element to the film’s (at times) dreamlike aura.

Pasolini was such a towering cultural figure that one wonders why Ferrara didn’t opt for a more straightforward arc, the better to highlight his complex character and enormously challenging intellect. Is this a tactic to deflect attention from the obviously low budget (it certainly ‘works’ in that regard), or born of a desire to keep everyone away from the film who doesn’t have at least a passing acquaintance with the details of his life and work? Whatever the reason, the film’s meandering forward motion is challenging enough for those of us who are familiar with the biographical details, and will probably be utterly off-putting for anyone who knows nothing of them.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the less than welcoming narrative and the odd casting, the film is defiantly compelling, exerting a grim fascination one suspects won’t endure enough to sustain interest through multiple viewings. It’s odd that no one has dramatized the life of Pasolini before now, as it contained enough subversive radicalism (sexual, cultural, political) to fuel half a dozen exciting, thought provoking films; there is a great film (or perhaps television series) to be made about him, and Pasolini offers an intriguing glimpse of a story that should be told.