Directed by: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Distributed by: United Artists
Written by Raúl Mendoza
I have been fascinated with the work of Italian director/intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini since I was introduced to him during my Italian Cinema class. The first film I watched from him was “Mamma Roma” which continues to be my favorite work of his. I have also sat down to watch and experience his final film, “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.” Both films could not be any more different from each other, and I think that’s what brings me back to Pasolini’s filmography. I bought The Criterion Collection’s release of Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life a year ago during one of their flash sales. It sat on my shelf for a while until now because I’m guilty of buying these editions fast but taking forever to actually get around to watching them. That all changed when I decided to shift my YouTube channel to focus on physical media, so the time finally came to sit down and experience these three films from Pier Paolo Pasolini. His Trilogy of Life consists of three films released from 1971 to 1974 including “The Decameron,” “The Canterbury Tales,” and “Arabian Nights.”
This piece will be completely devoted to “The Decameron,” the first film of the trilogy as I think one long piece is too much to have a concrete discussion/analysis of Pasolini’s work. Much like the other films in this trilogy, “The Decameron” adapts from memory the stories in Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th-century book. In Pasolini fashion, the film highlights the erotic nature of the stories while providing a more comedic execution that was new to Pasolini’s filmography at the time. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s work from the 50s to the 60s was not void of comedy but it did not play with slapstick humor in the way that these films do. “The Decameron” stars Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli (boyfriend of Pasolini at the time), Vincenzo Amato, Angela Luce, Giuseppe Zigaina, Silvana Mangano, and Pier Paolo Pasolini himself as the pupil of the painter, Giotto.
What works the best in “The Decameron,” is found in its structure as the film plays exactly as how you read a book. In literature, when you progress through the pages you don’t stop to fade into the next story. Once that chapter is over you head into the next, there are no transitions to the next story and Pasolini masterfully paces this execution in his film. It’s nowhere near being the great film that I think “Mamma Roma” is but it’s just as intriguing as I found “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.” Whether it is the story about the man who works at the convent with sex-crazed nuns or the silly tale of a man who is anxious over whether pre-marital sex is a sin. Of course, the ending of the film perfectly encapsulates everything that Pasolini aims to say in this film. Why devote our lives to finding the concrete meaning of text? Let’s just continue to dream it because in the end everyone interprets words differently. This is simply how Pasolini interprets The Decameron through the lens of the erotic.
Pasolini incorporates other integral characteristics into his film, for example, he changes the dialect that the characters speak from a Florentine found in the text to a Neopolitan dialect in the film. Pasolini aims with these changes to concentrate more on the working and lower class individuals in Italy usually ignored in The Decameron. Eroticism is his playground in the film and he uses it to criticize the Catholic Church. Using slapstick humor and sexuality, Pier Paolo Pasolini reminds the audience that the Church is the gatekeeper of all these natural aspects of our lives. They are the ones who sexually suppress their own and demonize natural bodily urges yet willfully turn their heads away from more obscene actions like murder. We laugh at the ridiculousness of the film, but it’s simply a painting of what they believe “sexual deviants” behave like with their urges on display. It’s all part of the act and Pier Paolo Pasolini has us hooked into it with such precise storytelling. It’s all part of life; you fall in love, you have sex, and according to “The Decameron,” sometimes you clean a pot while your wife is having sex with her lover as she gives you directions on how to clean. Life, is there anything more beautiful in this world?
“The Decameron” Trailer