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aka - Racconti di Canterbury, I
Italy 1971
Directed by
Pier Paolo Pasolini
111 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2 stars

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales was the second film in what Pasolini came to call his “Trilogy of Life” which began with The Decameron (1970) and was completed by Arabian Nights (1973). If one accepts that sex is life then that is about as profound as the association becomes, with Pasolini indulging his sexual fantasies in a variety of places and times across the three films.

Here, taking for himself the role of Geoffrey Chaucer, Pasolini subjects the seminal olde worlde text to a Rabelaisian reading, reducing the stories to a set of bawdy tales with plenty of bare bosoms, bottoms and male genitalia on display. How appealing this is will probably be a function of how much you are engaged by the latter, for though the film is quite a costly production it amounts to little more than an aggregate of loosely-connected episodes of such..

The narrative patchiness is compounded by the mixture of English and Italian actors, including amongst the latter some not good ones (Pasolini’s main casting criteria seems to have been a willingness to get one’s kit off, reflecting amongst other things his lack of interest in acting per se) and the dubbed dialogue. Of course in its day all this had a counter-cultural frisson of anti-bourgeois effrontery (the film won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 1972) that Pasolini claimed as a liberating celebration of the libidinal . This was quite a naïve belief and though commercially successful, audiences mainly appreciated them as peep shows, the films being absorbed into the upsurge of sexploitation films that were becoming increasingly mainstream at the time.  A disappointed  Pasolini soon recanted his claim.

His final film, Saló (1975) is the very antithesis of the optimistic attitude to sex adopted here although some might say that the references to Bosch at the film's end bears the seeds of Pasolini's future despair.




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