Having reached the radicalized peaks of Teorema and Porcile, Pier Paolo Pasolini followed late-'60s modernism with... a troika of commercial romps? That's like Godard tackling Pagnol's Fanny, and indeed Pasolini's shift to the Trilogy of Life, of which this string of Boccaccio anecdotes was the first panel, was the director's deliberate move away from art-house esoteria and toward accessible, even popular art. (Later, in a characteristically paradoxical act, he would publicly disavow the films.) Discarding the narrative complexity of his other movies, Pasolini whips the stories into one-after-the-other segmentation -- the occasional rhyming notwithstanding (as in two tales of beatific young lovers, one culminating in harmonious familial approval while the other ending with the boyfriend's decapitated noggin in a flower pot), the structure treads in dogged fresco simplicity. Pederast thief and killer Franco Citti confesses to the meekest of sins on his deathbed and gets cluelessly sanctified, while Giotto's pupil (Pasolini) arrives in town looking for faces for his latest painting. Elsewhere, Ninetto Davoli, the director's favorite curly-headed jester, lands in a vat of shit, a studly gardener plays deaf-mute and gets drained by a conventful of horny nuns, a grinning dunce of a husband cleans up an enormous jar as his screechy wife gets porked outside, some abysmal middle-aged comic cons a quickie out of a merchant's gal, and so on. Boccaccio's medieval times set the stage for a torrential of swindles, cuckolding, Neapolitan mugging and general bawdiness, which many critics have seen as the director's mellowed-out paean to sexuality. Actually, its most interesting aspect is how willed Pasolini's lightness feels, and how often hints of troubled anguish seep into the celebratory tone. If this submerged pain is at its most naked in the middle installment, The Canterbury Tales, it is not until Arabian Nights, the farthest removed in both time and place, that Pasolini achieves some of the utopian tranquility he was striving for. Cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli. Music by Ennio Morricone.
--- Fernando F. Croce