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Pasolini freely adapts ten or so episodes from Boccaccio's fourteenth
century collection of hundred short stories. He interweaves the tales
of happy or tragic lovers, naughty nuns and lusty priests, naive
husbands and cheating but quick-witted wives, inept grave robbers, and
a young gardener who got more than he had bargained for, with his own
meditations on art, life, death and love. Pasolini himself plays a
painter Giotto who observes the characters that inspire him to paint a
fresco on the church's wall.
"Decameron" is the first part of Pasolini's "Trilogy Of Life", which continues with adaptations of two other celebrated works of world fiction; "The Canterbury Tales" (1972) and the "Arabian Nights" aka "A Thousand and One Nights" (1974). All these books have been known as distinguished and revered works of literature that belong to the immortal classics. There are probably so many big volumes have been written about them that it would take more than a thousand and one days and nights to read them. They talk about love, death, the meaning of life, and religion but first and most of all they entertain. At the time they were told and written down, no one would think of them as the future academic references. That's why they are so alive, earthy, coarse, and bold. I have not seen two other Pasolini's films but 'Decameron' captures the original spirit of Boccaccio's tales truthfully and with love, humanity, and perfect sense of the medieval Italy.
The film has a look of a renaissance painting not only Italian Renaissance (Giotto) but Netherlandish Northern Renaissance - Peter Bruegel and Hieronymus Bosch.
As he often did, Pasolin used in the film the non-professional actors to play the medieval peasants. They had none of the Hollywood glamor or classical features or perfect teeth and smiles but their faces are interesting, original, and real.
Full of rustic comedy and innocence, earthy humor and lust for life "Decameron" is one of the most optimistic, and celebrating life films ever made. Its sexuality is straightforward and honest, moving and not insulting. This film, my first Pasolini made me want to see the rest of the trilogy and the rest of his films.
Pasolini's films are not for everyone. They are slow moving and play on archetypes, but I can think of no one who captures myth as well he does in his `Trilogy of Life' (The Decameron, The Arabian Nights, and The Canterbury Tales). Pasolini does as delicious job of weaving the mythical and poetic into everyday life. He uses real people instead of actors, and presents sexuality innocently and sensually. Staying away from the sexual violence so common in films of this era, and the soft porn haze we see in Hollywood films today. These universal stories are presented much the way they were written, simply and earnestly. The effect for me has always been pure magic.
This is the first of Pasolini's three feature-film adaptations of
obscene tales of antiquity, the other two being "The Canterbury Tales"
and "The Arabian Nights." It contains ten of Boccaccio's most famous
The bawdiest story concerns a merchant who back-doors his
partner's wife by promising to tell her his secret of turning a woman
to a female horse and back to a woman again...
The tale of the two lovers sleeping together on the terrace is quite nice and very erotic, but the most hilarious one involves a young man who pretends he's a deaf mute in order to get into a convent... Once inside, he discovers that the sisters are very curious about all the excitement the world has made over sex and want to find out if it is worth it...
The stories are quite funny and the acting is adequate especially for non-professionals But the film's charm is in its unrefined energy It spends as much time showing nude men as it does showing nude women, which was quite unusual for its time
I haven't yet seen too many Pasolini films / I intend to do so
though... I suppose many combine him with the disgusting Salo (100 days
in Sodoma) but thats not the case here.
In Decameron is actually several shorts, 9 or so, a series of funny tales in medieval Italy with similar touch and atmosphere. The humour is great, we had various laughs in almost every single bit. Some of the humour might of course offend hardcore Christians, but this is by no means a minus in my book. Pasolini's assault to this eras ethics is truly a delight! And even if this dates back to 1971, the stories remain fresh and provocative as is, and this is the height of Pasolini's vision.
Many indicated this as erotic. Sure, there is much of full frontal male and female nudity, some of which quite stimulating, which might be too much for some. But this ain't no erotic film. There are stories which have not erotic element in - and there are nude scenes which function as laugh scenes. Overall, this is a multi-layered short-stories film. I RECOMMEND THIS TO ALL FANS OF COMEDY & European FILMS.
Film lovers know "Andrei Rublov," that Russian film about an icon
painter. The beauty of the film comes in part because the filmmaker is
on the same quest as his character, and that quest has as its core the
discovery of beauty. The interesting thing about movies is that they
create and sustain a fantasy world that lives beyond any one movie and
into which we assume each movie is born. That world has its own type of
beauty, one born of color and glamor and poise.
Paosolini does the same thing as Tarkovsky, but where Tarkovsky dealt with cosmic beauty and recognition, this artist has simpler goals: to engage with flesh, to flow with the simple streams of ignoble daily motion, and to discover beauty in that plain world.
Oh, what a terrific cinematic place to visit! This is a far from that collection of movie metaphors and beauty as we can go. There is no movie acting here. There is no external beauty. There is no recourse to familiar characters or representation. As usual, he draws his source material from matter that is not only before cinema, but before any popular writing.
And he works with that material outside any movie tricks. Well, he still has that Italian tendency to believe that the world is populated by characters and not situations or any sort of fateful flow. Just people who do things. Lots of little things, usually associated with pleasure.
So if you are building a world of cinematic imagination you need to have this as one of your corners. That's silly, every one of us is building a cinematic imagination we cannot avoid it. What I mean to say is that if you are building an imagination, some of which you understand and can use, some of which you actually want and can enjoy without being sucked into reflex...
If you want to just relate to people as people and test how easy it is to find grace in the strangest of faces, then this is your movie voyage for the night.
One rather shocking thing is how the nudity works. In "ordinary" film, we thing nothing of seeing two people humping and moaning, nude pelvises grinding is the most hungry of ways. But we gasp when some genital is shown. Here, the exact reverse is found: no shyness about the obvious existence of genitals, an erection even. A sleeping girl with her hand in her lover's crotch. DIsplayed as if it were in the same cinematic territory as the faces he finds.
But when these characters lay on each other for sex, we have the most prurient of actor's postures. I think this was done simply to avoid an automatic sweep into ordinary film ways. It has that effect anyway.
I don't know anyone that chooses more interesting faces. Distinctly Southern European, odd atypical faces.
And finally, there is the bit of his own story inserted, the artist in the church. Creating scenarios of rich life. In the movie, the most amazing scenes are those that have little or nothing to do with the story. There's a "death" tableau that could be the richest single shot I have ever seen, anywhere.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
The unapologetic choice of ancient, crumbling and dirty locations, coupled with the choice of "real-looking" actors devoid of manufactured graces made this film feel right. 14th century Italy surely was as full of natural humour, even in close proximity to death, as this film makes out. Casual sex in spite of the threat of mortal sin is treated likewise with candour. A real masterpiece showing humanity in all its various forms.
This film is a portmanteau film based on the famous 14th Century Italian
story collection "The Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio. The book deals with
ten people telling a story each every day for ten days, but Pier Paolo
Pasolini (for obvious reasons) chooses merely nine stories for his film.
Most of the stories deal with sex or deception (usually both).
Like all portmanteau films, some stories are better than others, but most of the stories in this film are so short that, if you don't enjoy one story, you don't have to wait long for the next one.
The film depicts a world filled with dirt and vulgarity but also full of life. Pasolini used a lot of ordinary people in his films and here we see many of the actors are not conventionally attractive (for example many have bad, or missing, teeth). Pasolini appears in the film as a pupil of the painter Giotto who is assigned to paint a mural on the wall of a church.
I found this film funny, charming and very entertaining. Definitely for adults though, there is quite a lot of sex and nudity on display here.
This was the first film in Pasolini's so-called "Trilogy of Life" and was followed by "The Canterbury Tales" and "The Arabian Nights".
The erotic and more or less picaresque stories of which this movie is composed is based upon a collection of tales written in the 14th century by Bocaccio an Italian writer already called the Voltaire of 14th century. In the Middle Ages there was a tendency later abandoned, of considering erotic adventures under a humoristic point of view. The most common "hero" of those tales was the cuckold husband. I'm not a great fan of Pasolini. However this movie is more or less successful in depicting a series of funny situations related with erotic entanglements. Its merit is more due to the narrative form than to the stories itselves some them less funny than others. But the composition of the successive scenes develops in a series of pictures full of colour and movement portraying the people in the streets in a realistic way, showing popular types such as peasants, merchants, priests, nuns, etc. most of them with no make-up at all which contributes to create a vivid atmosphere that really puts us in the middle of a mediaeval scenery. Not a masterwork but something worth to be seen anyway.
Pasolini is the only one of my cherished filmmakers who does not have a
film in my list of greats, a weird thing. I love how he makes films but
the main narrative thrust as carried in the long arch is usually so
obvious, so extrovertly Italian, exposing modern absence of purpose in
Teorema, human self-delusion here, that it seems like something we
But he is a master of sculpting cinematic air, and this is a truly intelligent work of the medium, and not for any point it makes for sexual freedom or against religion.
A few of the individual joys first, because he is so joyous to watch. The faces he finds, such astonishingly expressive Italians. they are not actors in the ordinary sense, they do not mask deeply troubled soul in the coy way of puritans like Bergman. They are human sculptures, each one seemingly handpicked as exuberant fresco of earthy, toothless mirth. His sense of place is naked, unadorned, discovered; unlike so many Merchant Ivory or Hollywood period pieces, I feel like I inhabit this world. His camera, again unadorned, even sloppy at times, but as revelatory as anyone's.
In all these he teases the same spontaneous quality, that is what gives his work a certain careless air; but that is being carried by inspiration, instead of fixating on appearance. As honest as it is vital, because it was not excessively tampered with. He does not impose, paint beauty from the outside, it inwardly springs from air, from the flow of tangible emotion in tangible space jolting us into direct experience. Herzog could do it while being magical, few others. The film is a comic-book, an operabuffa in its narrative, but it's not without gravity that is life, nor is this the same as that tired business of 'realism' favored by the unimaginative like Nolan.
Where it really soars is in the overall gaze, however pleasant, it is the gaze that elevates this to required viewing for me.
All you need to know about the film is that it is in the form of thematically linked stories, centered in medieval Naples with rascals and scoundrels caught in mischief, often sexual. It is both funny and poignant, a film made for the same rowdy people it depicts. As said, the deeper purpose of the work is so readily available, show the marvelously flawed human being in all its buffonery and self- delusion, we may be inclined to think it 'small'. I think the problem is largely ours, myself includedwe often mistake complexity for intelligence, reason with words instead of seeing the formative fabric.
So this isn't complicated in what it says, but it is some of the most intelligent stuff I have seen.
Look at the film again. In each story someone is being deceived, as are we watching a film. In each story, as in the overall film, the lie or deception reveals a more penetrating truth about self. Various selves pursue truth (linked to freedom from the norm), sometimes against the restraints of the story, sometimes killed by the story, sometimes negotiated to be a part of the story. So the easiest thing to do, what many crass minds would do, is to emphasize the strongest emotion, despair in one story, hypocrisy in another, and pull on that to draw audience reactions. We'd still have pretty much the same point, human buffoonery.
It's all in Pasolini's multifaceted expression; in the first story with Andreuccio who came to buy horses, the poignant, ascetic lesson of 'thank god for losing your money' is uttered by two sneaky louts, so registers as both guidance and deception; in the story with the fake deaf-mute boy in the convent, the head nun deludes herself with the nonsensical miracle but simply oozes sexual joy as she rushes to ring the bell; in the story with two young lovers discovered the morning after sex by the parents of the girl, there is obvious hypocrisy by the father but everyone in the end happily gets his heart's desire; in the story with the illicit Sicilian boyfriend, we have both a sense of genuine bonding in the grove among the boys and awareness of its duplicity.
The apotheosis, the most emblematic instance, is perhaps the cuckold potter; we get once more both the obvious duplicity, being cheated on, but also the ecstatic, enigmatic laughter of the divine fool who is each of us.
See, Pasolini could point out social wrongs, or just plain stupidity, as well as Godard, but he could not afford to be a sweeping fool. Remember, he was a communist expelled from the Party in his youth because of his homosexualitythe best thing that could happen to him as an artist.
What he does here is the same, a truly gentle soul. He sketches very simple desires, then bit by bit he challenges the simplicity of our logical leaps in dealing with them, leaps over unfathomable soul. The nun's miracle is nonsensical, but that is her way of coping with newfound joy.
Who's to condemn her? Who, not being able to see her ecstasy, would be so dumb as to point out the fallacy of the miracle?
This is real intelligence folks, the foundation of it. Seeing through the illusion to the self that gives rise to it, this being real freedom from the norm.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There's something to be said about the casualness and the naturalness of the nudity in a film like this. No arty lighting, techno music or attempts to glamorize any of it, really. Additionally, despite the rating, the bulk of the film concerns people fully clothed, though admittedly their stories do often have sexual subject matter. Director Pasolini (who also appears on screen as an artist) adapts less than a dozen of Boccaccio's fable-like tales into cinema vignettes; their only connection being that they seem to take place in and around the same geographic area and in the same time period. The stories range from a hapless young man who is tricked out of his money, but then accidentally finds himself wealthy again to a wife who tricks her husband into scrubbing out a huge jar while her lover simultaneously mounts her to a gardener who plays deaf-mute in order to work in a nunnery, but soon finds out his job isn't as easy as he expected! Other tales include a priest who promises he can change a friend's wife into a donkey, a young girl whose lover falls victim to her three overprotective brothers and an old couple who use their daughter's loose virtue to their advantage. The film's greatest benefit is its incredible earthiness. Wonderfully aged and distressed locations are used. The actors (whose performances range from adequate to appallingly awful) look, for the most part, like people who could have existed back then, with just a few exceptions. The costuming suggests the primitive times, the settings are authentically primitive and the filming is all done on location with mostly natural light. Few period films have fully given themselves over so much to the act of forgoing glamour and arty trimmings. Some of the actresses do wear modern cosmetics, but most of them don't. The men seem to be either deliberately craggy and unappealing or deliberately hunky and virile. One deficit is the editing. The stories don't always have a clear-cut ending, but just blunder into one another without the benefit of segue. It doesn't help that not all of the stories' humor, irony or morals translate effortlessly to a non-Italian viewer. Sometimes one is left scratching his head as to what exactly the intention of the story is. Still, the film is worth seeing for the eye-opening way in which its material is displayed. For example, in the nuns' story, there's no imagining what it is that the gardener has to offer them. It's right there. Likewise, the sexual arousal of the unfaithful wife's lover is evident without any particular fanfare. It's not a movie for everyone, to be sure, but for the curious, it's likely that some part of it will be appealing. The director followed this up with two similar, but somewhat more explicit films, "The Canterbury Tales" and "Arabian Nights" before going for the jugular with "Salo", one of the most controversial and potentially offensive films ever made.
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