Synopsis: Legendary director Pier Paolo Pasolini combines the heroics and hedonism of the classic Arabian tales with his dreamlike vision of bawdy pleasures and sublime sensuality to create Arabian Nights, the masterwork of his “Trilogy of Life.”
eyelights: its setting. its overall quality. its sexy bits.
eyesores: its structure.
“Fidelity is splendid, but no more than frivolity.”
1974’s ‘Il fiore delle mille e una notte’ is the last part of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Trilogy of Life”. It is loosely based on the legendary Iranian collection of stories called ‘One Thousand and One Nights’.
As with its predecessors, it’s a collection of short stories, most of which revolve around romance and sex. It consists of five short films, with one wrap-around story that tenuously connects the others.
The wrap-around story opens in a marketplace, where Zumurrud, a highly-sought female slave, is being sold. Though she is allowed to pick her new master, she turns down all the highest offers, making fun of the bidders. She eventually selects Nur-e-Din, a poor young man who catches her eye, and sneaks him money to pay for her.
The morning after having spent the night making love, Zumurrud gives Nur-e-Din a tapestry that she made to sell at the market, warning him that her visions indicate he mustn’t sell it to a blue-eyed man. A fool, Nur-e-Din does anyway, thinking that he can ditch the man. But Blue Eyes follows him home, drugs him and kidnaps Zumurrud.
Blue Eyes takes her to one of the men that she had mocked, who gets his revenge by whipping her. When Nur-e-Din wakes up, he despairs for the loss of Zumurrud, and seeks here everywhere. He eventually gets the help of another woman: in exchange for sex with him, she finds the slave and sets up a rendez-vous later that night.
But Nur-e-Din falls asleep waiting for her and another man, one of 40 thieves, takes his place and kidnaps Zumurrud. To escape, she seduces her guard and leaves wearing his clothes, winding up at a kingdom whose king has recently departed: since he had no heir, custom demanded they wait outside the gate for the first male passerby.
Zumurrud is chosen, though they don’t know that she is a woman. She is hesitant, but they threaten to kill her if she doesn’t accept and doesn’t marry. In a bind, she accepts, but confides in her bride, who helps her find Nur-e-Din, who is looking for her everywhere.
Meanwhile, by a curious twist of fate, the two men who had kidnapped her are separately caught stealing rice and brought before her – so she has them crucified outside the city’s gates. Eventually Nur-e-Din also finds his way to Zumurrud’s palace after stealing rice.
But, instead of crucifying him, she spares him, leading her court to assume that their king had a weakness for the beautiful young man.
And they lived happily ever after
Interspersed throughout the film are four short stories:
1. An African woman is bathing nude in a stream. Stunned by her beauty, an older man passing by can’t get her out of his mind and gets a local writer to pen a poem that he can woo her with. After marrying her, as their wedding party cross the desert, they each see a beautiful youth and decide to bet on which one would fall in love with the other. And so they drug the pair, put them in a room together, waking each in turn to see what would happen next. Each youth take their turn having sex with the other as they sleep, nullifying the couple’s bet.
2. A warrior named Taj rides through the desert and finds Aziz crying on a tree trunk. He accidentally drops a scroll that has led to his unfortunate fate, and Taj asks him about it: he was just about to be married to a young girl, when he fell in love with a princess in a nearby castle. Mesmerized by the sight of her, Aziz failed to return to his wedding in time – which his father then postponed for another year. Distraught, Aziz confided in his young fiancé the reason for his disappearance. Unfazed, and utterly devoted to him, the girl provided him with advice to seduce the princess, helped him understand the cryptic messages that the latter was sending him. After finally bedding the princess, the girl instructed Aziz with things to say to ensure that he could continue his dalliance. However, it ends terribly for all of them, and Aziz is now left unable to be with the princess. So he decides to bring Taj to meet her, and the warrior hires two men to tile an ornamental ceiling to woo her.
3. One of the handymen tells his story to Taj: his group was attacked by brigands in the desert and he only escaped by pretending that he was dead. In a bind, he took an odd job outside the city where he found a secret underground chapel in which a young woman was kept prisoner by a demon. He seduced her and promised he’d release her, but scampered off at her urging. Still, the demon tracked him down, mutilated and murdered the girl and turned him into a chimpanzee. The chimp was then captured by a group of seafarers, who were stunned when it offered to write an account of their adventures for them. So they brought him to a high priest who, impressed by the quality of its calligraphy, offered it riches. He also consulted with his daughter, who was able to break the spell cast on the poor man – but at no small cost.
4. A young man asks his wealthy father if he can take one of their ships to go travel the world. His incredulous father allows it, but the man is shipwrecked after a storm decimates the ship and its crew. Finding himself on an island, he sees a father hide his son underground, deep below the beach. The frightened boy had been told that a man would come and kill him, but the lascivious young man offers to protect him, leading to some intimate moments. However, as they sleep, the man becomes possessed and murders the boy. When he wakes, the young man scrambles out and finds his own father and a search party looking for him.
My favourite story is the wraparound one, which is convoluted but very much in keeping with such tales. Was especially taken with the fact that, despite her misfortune, Zumurrud kept a playful glow about her.
She was pure delight.
What’s stunning is the sheer amount of full frontal nudity in this picture; just about everyone is naked and there are plenty of close-ups of men’s naughty bits. It’s certainly a voyeur’s dream on many levels.
Unfortunately, even though it’s undoubtedly the best of the trilogy, ‘Il fiore delle mille e una notte’ lacks the innocent charm of the first entry, ‘Il Decameron’. It has its fun moments, but it isn’t as playful.
Still, it’s a quality motion picture for the genre. How faithful it is to the original material is another matter altogether, but anyone willing to let that pass will no doubt be seduced by its beautiful people and locations.
Date of viewing: August 1, 2016