By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as DVD Review: Trilogy of Life: The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights - The Criterion Collection on Blogcritics.
WARNING: The following review covers films of a mature nature. As such, there is discussion contained herein that may be considered objectionable to some readers.
It’s not hard to understand why such knockoffs were cranked out in the wake of Pasolini’s taboo-busting romps. Watching 1971’s The Decameron
for the first time, I was immediately reminded of the international
T&A flicks I was practically reared on as a youth. Many late nights
were spent watching whatever “naughty,” badly-dubbed fare the pay cable
networks used to air in the wee hours back in the ‘80s. I guess the
difference is, Pasolini meant to say something with his films. Lots of
ink has been spilled in an effort to interpret exactly what that
“something” was, but especially in The Decameron it seems to me that he was just telling dirty jokes.
When one story ends, another one begins. There’s no fuss over narrative continuity, although The Decameron
turns out to be the easiest of the three to follow. The only vaguely
uniting thread is the recurring presence of a group of painters, led by
Allievo di Giotto (played by Pasolini), working on a mural. As
entertainment, The Decameron is my favorite of the three.
However, watch them all in a row, in short order, and the trilogy begins
to blend together. The tone is similar, many of the same actors turn up
in each, and they all feature shifting, non-traditional structures.
Arabian Nights concluded the trilogy in 1974, becoming
Pasolini’s penultimate film. Its stories were adapted from a collection
of Arabic folk stories, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.
The international production begins with a young man, Nur-e-Din (Franco
Merli), being chosen by a female slave who is being auctioned off.
Quite liberal, I suppose, for the auctioneer to allow the young lady,
Zumurrud (Ines Pellegrini), to choose the man who will purchase her. The
two fall in love, but Nur-e-Din somehow loses track of her by mistake.
He spends the better part of the film, easily the trilogy’s lengthiest
at 130 minutes, trying to locate her. As his quest unfolds, punctuated
by Nur-e-Din’s encounters with numerous nubile lasses, we are treated to
a variety of tangential stories of sex and temptation.
And there’s no other way to say this—there’s a lot of penis on
display in these movies. Yeah, there’s plenty of female nudity too, but
the emphasis in all three films is the male sex organ. Non-pornographic
female nudity is simply less “in your face” than close-up after close-up
of every imaginable variety of male member (including erections). I
wasn’t offended by it in the slightest, but it’s worth knowing for
viewers who find such material repellent. The sex, though considered
“erotic” by Pasolini, comes off as the awkward groping of people who
have heard of the act but never actually done it. Late in Arabian Nights,
Nur-e-Din plays “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” in a swimming
pool with a group of young girls. This naïve exploration is far more
convincing than any of the adult sexuality that so dominates the
is presented as a two-disc set in order to avoid compromising the
bitrate DVD. The film itself is longer than the other two, even if the
extras aren’t particularly more substantial. “Introduction” offers brief
comments from Pasolini himself, filmed in 1974 at the Cannes Film
Festival. “On Arabian Nights” is a new, exclusive video essay
by film critic Tony Rayns that provides a great deal of useful info
about the film and its place in Pasolini’s filmography. Twenty minutes
of deleted scenes are offered. Although they don’t have dialogue, they
do have subtitles taken directly from the screenplay. “Pasolini and the
Form of the City” is a 16-minute vintage Pasolini documentary about the
ancient Italian cities Orte and Sabaudia. It’s an odd, but not