Festival d’Automne, Paris

Embodying Pasolini, Olivier Saillard & Tilda Swinton

Words by Dan Thawley

Photography by Winter Vandenbrink

From the Mattatoio in Rome last year to a non-descript verrière in the 20th arrondissement this December, the performance Embodying Pasolini by Olivier Saillard and Tilda Swinton has finally come to Paris. The latest in a succession of quiet triumphs by the pair, this spellbinding show takes the costumes of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s films by Danilo Donati as the vehicles for a singular exploration of Cinecittà history.

Tilda is the consummate vessel, an ethereal being sheathed in anonymous calico — a bridge between the human and the other, a lawless alibi for Saillard’s delicate exploitation of museum archives in movement. Displaced from their stable slumber, they rediscover a fleeting proximity to the human body. In gloved hands and acid-free paper on a sterile stage demarcated by brown paper and tape, Swinton explores a gamut of characters through cloth, announcing St Matthew or Chaucer, examining archives with forensic precision, personifying clergy, royalty, and deity whilst swinging between chatty indifference and grimacing intent. Both her silence and stillness leave you wanting more, as the veteran actor frames moments of exquisite line, at times breaking the fourth wall with small talk with Saillard or perhaps to a garment itself.

Those garments are a joy to behold — from pleated robes in absinthe-coloured velvet to tulle underpinnings, sack-cloth tunics and dense halos of sculptural felt millinery. No one explores the history of costume and fashion like this duo, awakening sleeping archives, re-living cinematic vignettes stripped of context in a white cube of Saillard’s rigorous design. The liminal space they create between the strict protocols of museum archives and the fragile impermanence of performance art is food for the soul.

Photography by Winter Vandenbrink

The accompanying photos by Winter Vandenbrink depict costumes from the film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), one of the final sequences from the performance Embodying Pasolini.
Supported by Gucci, Embodying Pasolini runs from December 3rd – 10th. Discover the full program of theatre, dance, music and visual arts of the Festival d’Automne, Paris, here.

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