It is always a stimulating experience to come across artists who are dissatisfied with their creations, because such frustration is the result of arrows pointing to a further direction. This is the case with Romanian director Andrei Ujica in his encounter with Pier Paolo Pasolini.
In the spring of 2000, Ujica was invited by the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain to make a short film based on Pasolini’s documentary Sopraluoghi in Palestina per “Il Vangelo secondo Matteo” (Location Hunting in Palestine for the Film “Gospel of Matthew”). The short film was presented in Paris as part of the exhibition Le Désert in June 2000, but this left him unsatisfied. Now, 20 years later – close to the centenary of the director’s birth – Ujica has taken up the project again, creating the current version of 2 Pasolini, making changes to the editing of the images, and also to the soundtrack. The title has several explanations: it refers to the fact that it stems from two films – Sopralluoghi and Il Vangelo – but also to the fact that the short film is intended to be a way “toward” (playing on the English pronunciation of two/to) Pasolini, building an intimate dialogue with him.
The work was presented as part of the exhibition Mondo Reale – curated by Hervé Chandès, general artistic director of the Fondation Cartier – at the Triennale in Milan, which brings together works that express the experience of the unknown as it is perceived in the world in which we live, among other things through the encounter with faith and the phenomena of nature. The power of faith and the power of nature are two elements that, in fact, emerge strongly in Ujica’s work. To engage with this short film is one way to dialogue with Pasolini and his inspiration.
The landscape is gospel
In the summer of 1963, Pasolini made a journey to the Holy Land in search of the right tone for his film Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel according to St. Matthew), to prepare for the imminent making of the film. This is where Ujica’s work begins, reporting Pasolini’s conversation with the person who accompanied him, don Andrea Carraro of Pro Civitate Christiana in Assisi. “I am intrigued by Christ’s choice of a place so terribly arid, so terribly unadorned, so terribly devoid of any amenity,” Pasolini tells Don Carraro, accenting the adverb, repeated three times with the sweetness of his Friulian accent. “You see, don Andrea,” the director told him, “the word ‘spiritual’ has a somewhat different meaning for the two of us. For you, ‘spiritual’ means something intimate and religious. For me, ‘spiritual’ corresponds to ‘aesthetic’.” Ujica allows us to listen to Pasolini’s words that indicate something important: to a practical disappointment corresponds a profound aesthetic revelation, which consists in the aridity of the landscape. The revelation coincides with a disappointment.
Here the natural element emerges forcefully: the landscape disappoints the director of The Gospel According to Matthew. Everything seems “burnt with matter and spirit.” But where does this observation take him? He confesses: “My idea that the smaller and humbler things are, the more profound and beautiful they are, finds here a confirmation that I did not expect. I realized that this idea is even truer than I had imagined. The idea of those four bare cliffs of preaching has become for me an aesthetic idea, and therefore a spiritual one.”
Here, for Pasolini there is already the whole Gospel. The landscape is already the Gospel. This is a strong characteristic, well captured by Ujica. The “burning” becomes a sign of the dimension of the spirit and of the underworld, of the Good News of Jesus as well as of the dull aridity. Burning is the sign of nature as well as of mysticism.
It was from this ordeal that Pasolini took the decision to choose for his film the ancient world that he had found still intact in the early 1960s in southern Italy as a place equivalent to the Palestine of Jesus’ time, a place which expressed an extreme and desperate resistance to modernity. This is the sense of the revelation, which has the traits of an oxymoron, of a revolution, that of the Gospel, which “reduces to nothing the things that are,” as Paul of Tarsus wrote, so relevant to Pasolini’s reflection on Christianity.
The rush of waves and words
The ambiguous stance emerges here of a Pasolini who is Catholic and also Marxist, again giving significance to the 2 Pasolini title. The ambiguity is not only in the combination of the two affiliations, but also in the affiliations themselves. Let us also consider that behind the Gospel there is another film that Pasolini never made and of which only two shots are known (2050 and 402) which are to be found in La Ricotta, that is, The Chronicles of St. Matthew, where the protagonist Stracci is a figure of Christ (highly contested, at the limits – so it was understood – of blasphemy). Once more, 2 Pasolini.
Ujica captures in Pasolini’s film three fundamental images of Christ, which almost compose a Hegelian dialectic. He chooses from the Gospel the images of a Jesus who is alone, in the desert, with eyes and hands raised to heaven. It is a static and vertical image, rising up to the clouds. Then follow the images of Jesus walking in the wind. These are dynamic and horizontal images, marking a movement “forward” rather than “upward.” The third image is that of Jesus standing on stormy waters, a static yet dynamic image. Jesus does not walk on them, but dominates them like a statue. His words are fiery, revolutionary. And the waters are powerfully agitated. The director has taken the latter image – very powerful – from Maudite tempète, Alaska, le Berceau des Tempètes and Par delà les Sept Mers by director Dominique Pipat. We do not know if it is the words of Jesus that agitate the waters or vice versa. Words and waves unite the mystery of the elements associated with the revolutionary aspect of Christ’s turbulent message.
The stormy sea is the first movement. The images of the waters are in black and white, but then turn to a reddish sepia that seems to transform the water into magma, fiery, seething volcanic lava. Then follows the second movement, which returns to the images of Pasolini’s Sopralluoghi: the vision of the desert and of the director’s car moving slowly forward, accompanied by the words: “By disappearing, you have made that little that was your world down here disappear, leaving it as if consumed by your fire.” The burning returns, as does the scorching, a sign of desolation, but also of spiritual fire.
The question remains open whether, for Ujica, Pasolini’s Jesus is the creator of a cosmos or the agitator of chaos. Certainly, however, it confirms the fact that Pasolini’s Gospel is inspired not by pietas, but by an instinct or – as the director said to the producer Alfredo Bini – the fruit of a “furious irrational wave,” of “a terrible, almost physical energy, of pre-linguistic impetus.” This is perhaps the premise of a cosmos, the biblical one of the book of Genesis, emerging from the confused and seething waters, finally separated from the earth “created” by the finger of God. These are the images that Ujica had in mind as he worked on his film.
Tupac to Pasolini
In Pasolini’s portrayal of Jesus – with the Byzantine and Baroque, hieratic and proud face of Enrique Irazoqui – Ujica discerns the traits of a “proto-revolutionary,” as he himself defined him. He communicates this in his short film by engaging with Pasolini’s soundtrack. Ujica knows that in The Gospel the music is composed like a mosaic of choruses from Bach’s Passion according to Matthew, alternating with pieces from the Missa Luba, performed in Latin by natives of Central Africa, folk songs, compositions of ancient and modern composers. The spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child is found next to Mozart’s music.
Ujica takes it upon himself to close his work with a contemporary response: the music of Tupac Shakur, also known as 2 Pac, a kind of revolutionary rap prophet, who was murdered in 1996, at the age of 25. The film closes with a remix of his songs named 2 Pac 2 Pasolini, which is also Tupac to Pasolini. The number 2 returns, and rap – ideally in dialogue with Mozart, Bach and spirituals – becomes the musical key to an unfinished but necessary revolution, perhaps also marked by the reference to the violent deaths of Tupac and Pier Paolo.
* * *
The credits tell us that the film is dedicated to the memory of the Orthodox priest and avant-garde writer known by the pseudonym Jonathan X. Uranus, dear to the director.
The headlines flow thinly in white on black, while, overbearingly, Pasolini’s words in a letter to don Giovanni Rossi in December 1964 come to mind in which he invokes a grace: “I have always fallen from a horse; I have never been swaggering in the saddle (like many powerful people in life, or many miserable sinners): I have always fallen, and one of my feet has got caught in the stirrup, so that my trek is not a ride, but a being dragged along, with my head banging on the dust and on the stones.”
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no.12 art. 8, 1222: 10.32009/22072446.1222.8
 Andrei Ujicǎ, born in 1951 in Timișoara, Romania, began his career as a filmmaker in 1990. Together with Harun Farocki, he created Videograms of a Revolution, about the relations between political power and media at the end of the Cold War. The film was listed by Cahiers du Cinéma magazine as one of the 10 most subversive films of all time. His next work, Out of the Present, tells the story of cosmonaut Sergei Krikalëv, who spends 10 months aboard Mir as the Soviet Union collapses on Earth. His 2005 project, Unknown Quantity, creates a fictional conversation between Paul Virilio and Svetlana Alexievich. In 2010 he made The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu. Since 2001 Ujicǎ has been a professor of film at the University of Karlsruhe for Arts and Design. In 2002 he founded the ZKM Film Institute, of which he is director.
 It should be noted that the original title bears the diction Sopraluoghi and not the more common Sopralluoghi, which then also used for for Pasolini’s work.
 See https://triennale.org/eventi/mondo-reale
 Cf. T. Subini, Le cronache di S. Matteo. Il film amato e accantonato di Pier Paolo Pasolini, Turin, Utet, 2022.
 His real name is Marcel Avramescu (1909-84).