Synopsis: Pasolini’s startling candor and ribald humor illuminate these classic tales of romance, deception, murder and lust. A host of passionate lovers unite for a glorious, sometimes unexpected journey through Chaucer’s medieval England.
eyelights: the setting.
eyesores: its forced humour. the poor dubbing.
“There’s nowhere in the Gospels that says we ought to stay virgins. Anyway, tell me, what were the genital organs made for at the creation? Not to lie dormant I suppose.”
‘I racconti di Canterbury’ is a 1972 motion picture by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The second in his “Trilogy of Life”, it’s a collection of short stories based on Chaucer’s literary classic, ‘The Canterbury Tales’.
As with ‘Il Decameron‘, the stories aren’t related but are connected by a loose thread: Chaucer is seeking inspiration for his writing and gets it from the revelers at an inn in Canterbury. He recollects them to his amusement.
1. A Lord espouses about wedded bliss and how an older man should indulge himself and marry a younger woman to bear him an heir – and for sexual pleasure. He goes on the lookout for a bride and picks one after seeing a glimpse of her butt. They have a big wedding reception, at which she is noticeably bored – that is, until a young man suggestively stares her down. Despite the Lord’s claims to being a wonderful lover, she is contemptuous of him and begins an affair with the young man.
It almost comes to a head one day when two mischievous angels hanging about the garden decide to play tricks on them: One of them renders the Lord blind, which in turn makes the girl’s trysts more daring than ever. But then the other angel returns the Lord’s sight while she is making out with her lover in a tree above the once-blind man. Though her husband is upset at first, she manages to fool him into believing that his sight had played tricks on him. He returns to “wedded bliss” once again.
2. A man is wandering around a castle, and sees a Peeping Tom observing two men have sex. He follows him around as he goes to spy on other gay men. Then the voyeur exposes them to a lawman, who promptly breaks into the men’s rooms and blackmails them for money. This was clearly a set-up. And, naturally, the rich ones are able to get out of their predicament, while the poor ones end up arrested and burned on a pyre.
Later, the same lawman is sent out by his master to collect on a debt. The other man arranges to cross paths with him on his way out of town, and suggests that they join forces. Together, they stop along on their journey to harrass an old woman and blackmail her out of what little valuables she has. Then the man, who turns out to be a devil, takes the lawman to Hell, in return for his duplicitous actions. Justice is served.
3. A Chaplinesque goof (complete with leather bowler and cane) gets thrown out of his home for freeloading and scrounges around town to eat until he gets chased by the law in a silent, slapsticky bit very reminiscent of The Tramp’s own misadventures. The chase leads to him crashing a wedding and catching the eye of the bride by doing a goofy dance for her.
Later, he gets a job polishing eggs for a local merchant, even though he almost shatters the display. But when the man leaves to run errands, our goof is entrusted with the store and decides to gamble the money left behind. Obviously, the merchant returns, resulting in a comical confrontation. Yet, despite getting arrested, the goof remains carefree and sings gayly.
4. A young man takes advantage of his landlord’s absence to hit on the latter’s spouse; despite being a devout Catholic, he is extremely horny and can’t seem to help himself.
One day, he tells the landlord that, in his prayers, God told him that a terrible flood was coming and that they should make arrangements for it. And so they hang huge baskets from the ceiling for them to hide in from the waters. When the older man falls asleep inside, the young man and the spouse sneak away to a bedroom to finally have their romp.
But little does he know that she is also being wooed by another young man, who shows up while the lovers are in bed together. The woman plays a trick on this other suitor, getting him close enough to flatulate in his face. Insulted, he goes for a red hot poker and returns. But, this time, the young lover decides that it’s his turn to blow wind at the suitor.
Needless to say, this time won’t be nearly as satisfying as the first time was.
5. A woman exhausts her spouse with endless sex, and then goes to a friend’s place for respite. There she sees a lovely young boarder and decides to seduce him. When she return home, she finds her spouse on his death bed. Everything going according to her plan, she arranges for a wedding party to coincide with his funeral and promptly moves on to her new life with the young man.
6. Two young men ask their master for leave to go run errands, and go to see the miller to get some grain. While they flirt with the women there, the miller tries to scam them, filling their bags with other grains. So, to get their revenge on him, they arrange to seduce his spouse and daughter while he sleeps. But, when one of them gets confused and climbs into the wrong bed, everything unravels.
7. A bunch of young men have been carousing at an inn. The next day, they are mislead by a stranger into seeking a man called “Death”, who will make rich men of them. Fools the lot of them, they go to the place the man indicated and find a treasure. Naturally, they all conspire to keep the fortune for themselves and wind up killing each other, in a Shakespearian tragi-comic ending.
8. A callous, selfish man is berating a dying acquaintance for not sharing his wealth with him before departing forever. At night, he is visited by an angel, who takes him to a Hell of naked, flatulating demons.
Without a doubt, this was my least favourite film in the “Trilogy of Life’. The stories aren’t exactly inspired, plus which the humour feels forced and slightly limp. I actually had to take a break halfway through.
It’s okay, but it’s not a movie I will return to often.
Date of viewing: July 27, 2016