The Canterbury Tales

Directed by: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Distributed by: United Artists

Written by Raúl Mendoza


The Trilogy of Life is not a straightforward adaptation of literature as seen in my discussion of “The Decameron.” Pier Paolo Pasolini is not a straightforward person and it reflects in the art he makes. The Middle English poem is this auteur’s playground as he continues to dissect the sexual nature and tones of medieval times juxtaposed with his view of the modern erotic. His audacious and absurd view of literature continues with the second film within his Trilogy of Life, “The Canterbury Tales.” With all its inherent chaotic nature, how does this adaptation hold up as a cohesive film within this audacious trilogy from Pier Paolo Pasolini?

“The Canterbury Tales” was quite the experience for the Italian director especially with him being in the process of a difficult breakup with Ninetto Davoli as the actor was preparing to leave him for a woman. This was obviously something that Pasolini took to heart and there’s more to discuss in regard to their relationship in his final film in the trilogy, “Arabian Nights.” “The Canterbury Tales” is a Golden Bear award winner, based on the tales of Geoffrey Chaucer, and is written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini (who plays Chaucer). The film’s cast includes Hugh Griffith, Laura Betti, Ninetto Davoli, Franco Citti, Josephine Chaplin, and Alan Webb. Pasolini follows in the footsteps of his previous work by aiming to adapt the spirit of the poem instead of creating a copy-paste adaptation of Chaucer’s tales.

I would not go as far as to say that this is a carbon copy of the last film as Pasolini is looking at two different texts. They are similar in theme and the cinematic translation is similar in approach, yet “The Canterbury Tales” is a far more interesting film. The stories on which the film centers are humorous as Pasolini employs his slapstick writing and direction to showcase the ridiculous nature of the themes of the original text. He also creates marvelous imagery, for example, that of The Friar being sent to hell. Pasolini is at his best when he plays with elements like violence, grotesque humor, and sexuality. 

I can’t say that the film does anything revolutionary for the medium of filmmaking, and the film does drag in the second act which caused me to lose some interest. With an ending that is very on the nose, but that ending serves as a reminder for artists to not be ashamed of the work they create even if the audience will find it controversial. This serves as an intriguing bit of foreshadowing of the coming years of his career and the release of “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom.” Art is the only real thing in the world that evolves whether the public agrees with it or not. Whether it was executed well or not, you have to respect how much effort and love Pier Paolo Pasolini has for art. He wants to make sure that even if it makes us uncomfortable we are bound to work that challenges what we believe.

“The Canterbury Tales” Trailer

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