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Pier Paolo Pasolini
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Pier Paolo Pasolini
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Pier Paolo Pasolini
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Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini,
a crude, crazy, beautifully shot episodic satire with a few unforgettable scenes
Pier Paolo Pasolini, to my estimation so far from films I've seen (which have been most of his oeuvre), wasn't a genius, at least not entirely. He could fall flat on his face or just stick his pretentious tail out too far into the wind. But he was an artist, and with his subjects he had something to say whether you liked it or not. So is the way with The Canterbury Tales, which I've been told is apart of a "trilogy of life" (along with the good Decameron and the near-masterpiece Arabian Nights), and like those films it's a narrative that is precisely loose and episodic, and the subject matter is like a Monty Python film that takes its craft seriously but still knows when to go in for the bizarre humor. Or sometimes not. Or sometimes it just doesn't work.
I never read the Chaucer Tales that are so renown to scholars and school-kids alike, but the stories in the film seem to reflect as much of its filmmaker as it does its author, if not more so. We get stories of lust and adultery and greed and ignorance in medieval, rural England. Not much time for a lot of the mythical aspects (though from time to time they are there), and there's a boatload of time for bawdy and crude comedy. One of the highlights is a scene where a young man has just finished sleeping with a woman (both very nude, it is NC-17 England and all), and the guy's friend is standing outside the window to get a kiss. She decides to give him one, her ass and a big fart right at his face. But he returns with a red hot poker and asks so nicely to get a kiss again, this time his friend's turn to give a fart, and thus get a red hot poker at his private area. So yeah, comedy like that.
Some scenes kind of meld into others, as the stories continue on with middle aged fat men who want their women and are joyful and mean in equal measure (one guy sings and amuses his woman, though she'd rather have the company of a younger man), while another man keeps trying to have his way with another maiden, a big phallus sticking right in his pants (again, NC-17). The downside to a lot of the film is that Pasolini, for all of his elegant artistry in composing shots in these rundown and rural places and in the fields of England (with DP Tonini Delli Colli), he can't really direct most of his cast well. Sometimes his use of non-professionals can work, but it doesn't help in this case that a large majority of the cast speak English, and are dubbed (Pasolini's films in general don't have live sound recorded), and some of the actors like the Fool who impresses with his capability of outrunning authorities and spilling eggs that don't break are just smiling idiots that can't act well.
That is, with some exceptions. Or rather, a bizarre exception. Tom Baker, who some of you may recall (or love) from his stint as a Doctor Who in the 1970's, appears in one of the stories. It's kind of a shock to even see him; he appears completely naked as a sexually frustrated housewife looks through a peephole, and he appears (we haven't seen his face until then) in a full 70's porno mustache and his usual wide-eyed demeanor. He also gets some other 'pleasure' in a field scene, which is also rather crazy to see, if only from the only former association with him being Doctor Who, and then another scene where he gets to overact reading from a book to the sexually frustrated housewife. It's a remarkably wild story and featuring the actor becomes more than just a curio. Ditto to the finale of the film, where we see Chaucer (who also appears during the film sometimes as the 'author' of these stories) delight in showing Satan and his minions defecating all over the place. It's like the South Park answer to Salo.
It's a film that is loaded with creative visuals, some striking Ennio Morricone music, and some really juvenile humor, not to mention the bad dubbing and hit-or-miss "acting" by the mostly non-professionals. But what carries it is the director's dedication to his vision, and the fun he's having with Chaucer and his own view on the decay and rampant sexual energy of the populous.
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