Pier Paolo Pasolini (director)
BFI Film (studio)
352 min approx (length)
16 September 2019 (released)
16 September 2019
All-round creative genius, fearless provocateur and political figure – Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini was different things to different people. If there is one thing everyone can agree on then it’s the undisputed fact that controversy followed him like a shadow. It’s no different with his highly unique take on three pre-modern masterpieces of world literature: Chaucer’s ‘The Canterbury Tales’, Boccaccio’s ‘The Decameron’, and ‘The Arabian Nights’ – now in the TRILOGY OF LIFE set.
Pasolini liked to work with his favoured actors time and time again for all three adaptations (think Warhol and Joe Dallesandro) while the master himself creeps up in the role of a painter and even Geoffrey Chaucer himself. Among the Pasolini regulars are – it goes without saying – Franco Citti and Ninetto Davoli, while British actors such as Hugh Griffith, Tom Baker and Robin Askwith can be spotted in The Canterbury Tales (1972). While the original literary source contains 24 tales, Pasolini adapted eight, although not always faithfully. Pasolini and artistic licence always went hand in hand! While plenty of frivolous nudity and the director’s infamous sense of scatological ‘humour’ are displayed in abundance, religious hypocrisy is never far behind. Viewers will have their own favourite tale, however, standouts here are ‘The Friars Tale’ in which a vendor witnesses an act of sodomy. While one sodomite escapes the authorities, the other one is less lucky and ends up getting ‘griddled’ alive during a public spectacle. The vendor (F. Citti) turns out to be the devil.
In ‘The Cook’s Tale’ we see Perkin (a Chaplin-like fool), played by Ninetto Davoli complete with bowler hat (what, in the Middle Ages?), getting into all sorts of trouble and ending up in the stocks. In ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ Robin Askwith appears as young Rufus who is killed by a thief. His remaining three friends decide to look out for Death when they come across an old man whom they accuse of being in cohorts with the grim Reaper. Not easily intimidated, the old man sends them to a place sporting an oak tree, where the three chaps discover a mighty huge treasure! While two of the friends guard their precious discovery, the third, Dick, goes into town to fetch three casks of wine so they may celebrate. However, Dick poisons two of the casks so he can have the entire treasure for himself. Talk about comradery! When the two friends realize they have been poisoned they manage to stab Dick to death before they snuff it… Having looked out for Death, the three young men found death! ‘The Summoner’s Tale’ is the most outrageous of them all and has Pasolini written all over. When a gluttonous friar tries to extract a generous amount of donations from a bedridden parishioner he informs him that his possessions are placed beneath his buttocks. What follows simply cannot be put into print here, so let’s just say that hundreds of corrupt friars are expelled from the parishioner’s behind by the Devil himself. The sequence has to be seen to be believed!
One year prior to ‘The Canterbury Tales’, Pasolini had already worked on his adaptation of Giovanni Boccaccio’s THE DECAMERON – which might explain while a lot of the same costumes crept up in Canterbury Tales – not to mention his favoured actors. DECAMERON won the ‘Silver Bear’ at the 21st Berlin International Film Festival. The various stories are intertwined through a pupil of the mural painter Giotto (portrayed by Pasolini). Once again we have eight different tales here, all of which are either bawdy and funny or even slightly creepy. In the first tale, hapless Andreuccio of Perugia (Ninetto Davoli) is in desperate use of the privy but upon asking a lady where to find it she plays a not so ladylike prank on him… which sees the poor sod falling into a cesspit. Seemingly taking pity on the smelly lad, two crafty thieves and use him in their plan to rob the tomb of a bishop who had been buried with his jewels. Just as the unassuming Andreuccio hands the thieves the stolen goods they lock him into the tomb. Not for long though as thanks to a lucky twist of fate, not only does he manage to free himself but come up trumps with the dead bishop’s priceless ring.
In the second tale, young Massetto (Vincenzo Amato) pretends to be a deaf-dumb gardener and has his own reasons for doing so. Being good-looking and physically fit, some of the sex-starved nuns waste no time in putting the gardener ‘into service’ and soon Massetto can’t keep up with the sexual demands of the convent sisters. Finally he complains to the Mother Prioress but her only response is that it must have been a miracle he got his voice back! Incidentally, this tale was made into a 2017 US comedy-film called ‘The Little Hours’ starring Aubrey Plaza and John C. Reilly.
The seventh tale concerns a peasant woman who is tricked by a randy doctor. He makes her believe he can turn her into a horse (and back into human form) so she can help sow her husband’s fields. However, while the simple-minded farmer woman believes every word the doctor says he merely tells her porkies with the intent of bedding her.
Finally, Pasolini’s ARABIAN NIGHTS (1974) once again sees several stories loosely woven together, with a frame story involving a naïve young man called Nur-e-Din (Franco Merli) falling head over heels for slave girl Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini) after she made it clear during a slave auction that she wants him to become her master. Thanks to an idiotic error made by Nur-e-Din, a notorious thief abducts the slave girl and Nur desperately tries to find her again. From that point, the story is divided into various sub-plots including that of a man hell-bent on freeing a woman from a Demon (Franco Citti), though the central plot always remains Nur’s search for Zumurrud who has managed to escape her kidnapper and – disguised as a man – has fled to a far-away kingdom. And yes, it doesn’t take long before she is crowned… King! Like all good fairy tales worth their salt, in the end Nur-e-Din finds himself reunited with Zumurrud and they live happily ever after. ARABIAN NIGHTS is perhaps the most ambitious of Pasolini’s three adaptations what with location work in Yemen, Nepal, Ethiopia and Iran. Some of the action even takes place in the city of Aleppo – who would have thought that decades later the city would serve as a stronghold for ISIS! No expenses spared either trying to achieve authenticity, with impressive costumes and an army of extras – no wonder the film took two years to complete! Once again, the stories offer a mix of erotic (often homo-erotic) adventures and slapstick.
This Blu-ray set, presented in HD, comes with an abundance of Bonus Features and all three films offer both the Italian as well the English language version. Curiously though, the lip movements never quite seem to be in sync with either version. The set also included an illustrated booklet.