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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Pasolini in Russia: the re-emergence of one of Italy's greatest 20th Century poets and visionary filmmakers in the Russian cultural firmament

Angela Felice and Kirill Medvedev at the opening event of the Pasolini Days in St Petersburg's cinema Rodina

While the world celebrated the 40th anniversary of Pasolini's death last year there was barely no mention of this in Russia. This year, however, it seems that the figure of Pasolini is stalking the Russian consciousness with a whole series of culturally significant moments that may have been little reported but will surely prove to be landmarks when looking back. Landmarks because the links between Pier Paolo Pasolini and Russia have gone back a long way, although had recently become attenuated and landmarks because of the resonance of the figure and thought of Pasolini in contemporary Russia. Equally, Russia and Russian culture was of great importance for Pasolini. As Francesca Tuscano has shown in her work 'Russia in the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini',  Pasolini's work is replete with Russian influences and allusions(in other essays and a monograph on Pasolini in Russia she shows a reciprocal story), Russia was, indeed, the starting point for one of Pasolini's most important poems 'The Religion of My Time' after his first journey to Moscow in 1957. Pasolini's influence was equally significant in bringing to the attention of Italian scholars the Soviet Formalists from Shklovsky to Jacobson as well as Bakhtin. His posthumously published novel Petrolio is full of Russian allusions and references. Both Dostoyevsky and Shklovsky are cited often. Many Russians too have discovered that Pasolini (both the poet and the filmmaker and to a lesser extent his other roles) were central to their world.

One of Francesca Tuscano's works on the reciprocal influences of Pasolini and Russia
Of course there have been ebbs and flows in the interest that Russians have shown in the work of Pasolini. Pasolini may be the most 'Russian' of Italian figures but he is also one that encounters a certain resistance. From Soviet times Pasolini can be seen as just as 'uncomfortable' (scomodo) a figure in Russia as he was in Italy. Such that the Soviet press simply ignored his assassination (no contemporary press reports of this central event in modern Italian history were published in the Soviet press). His support for Sinyavsky and Daniel meant that from the late sixties he was very much a figure either ignored or attacked in the Soviet press. Perestroika 'rescued' him with a number of retrospectives (even though causing a certain scandal even then), though the ground had been prepared with a number of translations of poetry in the early eighties. A major publication of his written works also took place in 2000 with the publication of a book entitled Teorema which, however, was not centred on his eponymous film and novel but brought a large collection of material to the attention of the Russian reading public.
Kirill Medvedev, poet, publisher (Free Marxist Press) and the translator of Pasolini's Friulan poems

2016 has proved to be one of those years in which Pasolini has returned into the Russian cultural consciousness. Surely in hindsight one of the central moments of this recuperation of the legacy of Pasolini will prove to be the very first full translation into Russia of Pasolini's Friulan poems including both major cycles of his dialect poetry - La meglio gioventu as well as La Nuova Gioventu. Kirill Medvedev (a poet who has in the past worked on and published a number of translations by Pasolini) has rendered an immense service and overcome many truly colossal hurdles in rendering these essential poems for an understanding of the genesis and final years of the poet Pasolini. An historic moment given that Russian is the very first foreign language into which these poems have been fully translated (and so undoubtedly a landmark moment globally as well as in Russia itself). For it is in Pasolini's Friulan poems where we find the beginning and the end of Pasolini's poetry. The re-writings of the early poems undertaken in the early 70s encapsulate those two moments of the appearance of luminosity (born as one of Pasolini's own poems in Italian puts it through the experience of the Resistance) and the dying of the light in his visionary nightmare of the consumerist hell of a future fascism which Pasolini depicted in his last film Salo' or the 120 Days of Sodom. A hell which seems so very contemporary in these days of Trump, Brexit and the nativist right stretching from France through Austria to Hungary in line with a sadistic 'conservative revolution' all too visible in Russia itself. The emergence of a poet in Friulan (and in a version of Friulan hitherto considered nonliterary) in the early 1940s and the abjuration of this hope incarnated within his poetry in the early 1970s are embodied in a Russian text which demonstrates this dialectic to be of extreme contemporary relevance in Russia itself. The book includes a range of commentaries on this poetry from those of Angela Felice, the Director of the Casarsa Pasolini Centre (who came to introduce the book) to Michael Hardt (well-known for his collaborative works with Toni Negri). Moreover, the book includes an interesting experiment carried out by the leftist Ukrainian activist based in Odessa, Denis Pilash, who translates a number of Pasolini's poems into his native Rusyn language (a language as marginalized from the literary process in this part of the world as that of Friulan would have been in the early 1940s).
Kirill Medvedev's volume of translations of the full 1974 edition of Pasolini's Friulan poems La Nuova Gioventu, cover by Nikolai Oleynikov.
The book presentations last weekend were accompanied by a further event. The showing in St Petersburg and Moscow of a film which Pasolini associated himself with in the early 1970s. This film was December 12th. While Pasolini did not shoot the whole of the film but collaborated with the left extra-parliamentary group Lotta Continua in producing the film and indeed he filmed some significant moments of the film-indeed deeply lyrical moments of this very political film. The film showing (chosen by the film review Seance from a list of possible Pasolini films submitted to them by Kirill Medvedev) caused some consternation on the part of some of the Italian parties organising the weekend and in part led to the withdrawal of support from the Moscow wing of the Italian Institute of Culture for the Pasolini weekend (though the St Petersburg IIC did rightly support the initiative). While December 12th may remain an uncomfortable film for Italians to watch (reminding them of a decade full of real traumas but also hopes and clashes long since buried by the anemic abulia of the period from the 1980s to the reign of Berlusconi and beyond), it remains a historical document of supreme importance. Concentrating on the events surrounding the bombing of a Milanese bank (and attempting to reconstruct the truth of these events) and on the quasi revolutionary atmosphere in the country in the early 1970s, the film brings out uncomfortable memories to Italians who lived through the period. Yet the traumas of the Italian 1970s has already been the subject matter of a previous Italian Cultural Institute event from another angle (with its own explicit perspective on the decade). The film Sfiorando il Muro was given two separate showings in Moscow a few years back. A film which was both a deeply personal story (the director was the daughter of a neo-fascist activist shot dead by the Red Brigades in the early 70s) but not shying away from a political reading of the 1970s (in the city of Padua). Even if it did attempt to give voice to different participants, it firmly stamps its own depiction of the decade on the viewers mind.

The 12th December- shown at two cinemas in Moscow and St Petersburg- this weekend to accompany the publication of Pasolini's Friulan poems.
Yet the Pasolini contribution this year has not been limited to this. The arrival of David Grieco at the Moscow International Film Festival with his film La Macchinazione on the murder of Pasolini, a film responding to Abel Ferrara's film on the same subject but from a very different and more political angle was another significant moment. Its repeat showing at a more recent festival devoted to Italian cinema in Moscow has given people in Moscow a second chance to view this film.
Alexandra Petrova, author of a Russian novel on Rome where the spirit of Pier Paolo Pasolini is very much present.

The presence of Pasolini is also a significant one in a recently published novel, Appendix (Аппендикс) by Alexandra Petrova, a writer who has spent almost twenty years in Italy. The novel in Russian has received a lot of critical attention and was the occasion for an interesting discussion led by the poet Elena Fanailova for Radio Svoboda. The novel is now in the running for two prestigious literary prizes in Russia. Pasolini is present both implicitly and explicitly in the novel- for example in the form of direct citations (for example a chapter is introduced with translated lines from his poem Il canto Popolare) as well as toponomical links. The chapter 'Roman Monsters' which the citation heads discusses the Rebibbia of Pasolini and the Rebibbia of this novels protagonist. In fact the novels of Pasolini even where he is not cited are surely a literary antecedent of this novel (portraying a Rome not of the beau monde or dolce vita but of the periphery, just as Pasolini had done so provoking such scandal six decades ago). It is a novel of immigrants, trans, and marginalised radicals moving back and forth from Rome, to Saint Petersburg (or Leningrad), Brazil and Africa just as it heads back and forth in historical time - and often to those 1970s, that last season of political revolt highlighted in the film 12th December, a season with which one of the novel's protagonists is closely associated with.
The cover of Alexandra Petrova's novel Appendix

Pasolini's presence in Russian culture seems likely to grow stronger than ever. The Russian translation of a large section of Pasolini's Petrolio was published a year ago, as was the book by Emanuele Trevi (Qualcosa di Scritto) trying to dissect the unfinished work of Pasolini and to give (an admittedly none too flattering) portrait of Pasolini's close friend, Laura Betti, who would keep alive the memory of Pasolini in unorthodox ways. The Laura Betti who also had come to Moscow to present a Pasolini retrospective a number of years ago (a trip, alas, not mentioned in Trevi's book).

Emanuele Trevi speaking through the translator of his novel in Moscow at the presentation of his book in Moscow