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Trilogy of Life(1970-1974)
In the early 1970s, the great Italian poet, philosopher, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini brought to the screen a trio of masterpieces of medieval literature... and in doing so created his most uninhibited and extravagant work. In this brazen and bawdy triptych, the director set out to challenge modern consumer culture and celebrate the uncorrupted human body, while commenting on contemporary sexual and religious mores and hypocrisies. Filled with scatological humor and a rough-hewn sensuality that leave all modern standards of decency behind, these are carnal, provocative, and wildly entertaining films, all extraordinarily designed by Dante Ferretti and featuring evocative music by Ennio Morricone.
For more about Trilogy of Life and the Trilogy of Life Blu-ray release, see Trilogy of Life Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on October 22, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ninetto Davoli, Franco Citti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Hugh Griffith, Laura Betti, Franco Merli
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Trilogy of Life Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 22, 2012
Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life ("The Decameron/The Canterbury Tales/Arabian Nights") arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. Amongst the many supplemental features included on this three-disc set are original trailers; new video interviews with legendary composer Ennio Morricone and production designer Dante Ferretti; new video interview with writer Sam Rohdie; visual essay by film scholar Patrick Rumble; English-language inserts; documentary films; and deleted scenes. The release also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring essays by critic Colin MacCabe; Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 article "Trilogy of Life Rejected"; excerpts from the director's Berlin Film Festival press conference for "The Canterbury Tales"; and a report from the set of "Arabian Nights" by critic Gideon Bachmann. In Italian, with optional English subtitles for each film. Region-A "locked".
A bold and at times surprisingly explicit satire targeting religion and class, controversial Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Decameron is the first installment in his notorious Trilogy of Life. The film is loosely based on Giovanni Boccaccio's fourteen-century collection of erotic stories Il Decameron.
The ten stories of The Decameron are divided into two parts. In the first part we learn about the murderer Ciappelletto (Franco Citti) who becomes a saint, the naive foreigner Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) who gets robbed by two local scoundrels, and a group of nuns who take advantage of a young man who poses as a deaf-mute so he could become a gardener. These stories are loosely joined by the sporadic appearance of Ciappelletto.
In the second part all of the stories are united by the presence of the artist Giotto – played by Pasolini himself – who has come to Naples to paint a fresco for one of the city's cathedrals. We learn about the very young Catherina and her lover who are caught naked and asked to marry, the young Elizabetta and her servant and lover Lorenzo who gets killed by her angry brothers, the opportunistic Don Gianni, and the peasant Meuccio, whose deceased friend Tingoccio appears to tell him that in the afterlife sex isn't considered a sin.
Despite the fact that each of the three films in Pasolini's Trilogy of Life – The Decameron, Canterbury Tales, and Arabian Nights – contains plenty of scenes where naked bodies are seen, none of them is particularly arousing. They are scandalous and provocative not because of the occasional decadence their stories convey, but rather because they manipulate the past (in The Decameron, a flawed notion of the Middle Ages) in order to critique the present.
It should not be surprising then that each of the main characters in The Decameron is extremely difficult to like. The good ones for example are impossible to embrace; they are meek, defeated and constantly ridiculed. Unsurprisingly, many critics have speculated that these characters were representative of Pasolini's frustration with the masses and their lack of desire to challenge the then-current socio-political status quo.
The bad ones are simply hideous. Interestingly enough, in practically every episode from The Decameron their crimes and sins are forgiven. Again, this isn't accidental; it is directly related to Pasolini's detestation of the Catholic Church and the values and beliefs it promoted at the time (nine years before The Decameron was completed Pasolini was actually arrested on charges that he had insulted the Catholic Church in his poetry and films).
Giotto, the famous artist Pasolini himself played, is a symbolic figure as well. He may seem a bit out of place - he is a transitional figure, not a central one - but his presence in The Decameron is of utmost importance. Giotto embodies Pasolini's conviction that a true artist is uncommitted to religion and politics.
The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales, the second installment in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life, is based on the fourteenth-century stories of English poet and philosopher Geoffrey Chaucer. Once again, due to its explicit nature, this was a film that spurred an enormous amount of controversy in Italy that led to its eventual banning.
The majority of the stories in The Canterbury Tales focus on the same type of sexual behavior witnessed in The Decameron. However, while The Decameron was highly regarded by scholars and film critics for its masterful interpretation of Boccaccio's texts, The Canterbury Tales was never praised for its truthful replication of the unique qualities Chaucer's writings convey.
Some critics have speculated that one of the key reasons why The Canterbury Tales was not as successful as The Decameron has to do with the fact that Pasolini was not as familiar with Chaucer's writings as he was with Boccaccio's. In addition to the notable omission of the pilgrimage - a crucial theme in Chaucer's writings - this is particularly obvious in the illogical order of the stories he favored for the final version of The Canterbury Tales.
Aside from the closing scene – a fascinating journey to Hell where we see the Devil punishing all sorts of sinful friars – there are hardly any litigious overtones in the film. Whether because the main characters were played by non-professional actors or because Pasolini simply did not seek to provoke the audience, The Canterbury Tales lacks the subversive punch found in The Decameron and Arabian Nights.
The Canterbury Tales is a grounded film that does not self-destruct because of the abundance of explicit imagery it contains. Its humor isn't degrading either, though there are a few sequences where Pasolini comes dangerously close to ridiculing the different protagonists and their vices simply for the sake of doing so.
The largely English-speaking cast (Hugh Griffith, Tom Baker, Nicholas Smith, Jenny Runacre) was dubbed in Italian with a varying degree of success. Throughout The Canterbury Tales there are many scenes where poor lip-syncing affects the overall flow of the narrative. As a result, at least as far as this reviewer is concerned, much of the zesty humor becomes quite ineffective.
Pasolini's preferred Italian actors – Franco Citti (as the Devil), Ninetto Davoli (Perkin), Laura Betti (The Wife from Bath) – play characters that are just as mischievous and deliciously perverse as the ones in The Decameron. Josephine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin's daughter, also has a small cameo in the film (playing the promiscuous May).
The Canterbury Tales reunited producer Alberto Grimaldi (Fellini - Satyricon), cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli (Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom) and legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly).
The third and final installment in Pasolini's Trilogy of Life, Arabian Nights, is a relaxed, notably colorful film where slaves, demons, ambitious men and promiscuous women coexist in a magical world ruled by the power of love. Shot in exotic locations throughout Yemen, Nepal, Iran and Ethiopia, Arabian Nights is also Pasolini's least controversial work.
Though the title of the film is similar to that of the famous 1001 Arabian Nights, there is little in common between the two. Most of the stories in Pasolini's film are far less intense and clearly driven by the same emphasis on love and sexuality present in The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales.
There are a number of familiar actors in Arabian Nights who had already appeared in the other two films from the Trilogy of Life – Franco Citti, Ninetto Davoli, Elisabetta Genovese, Franca Sciutto, etc. Once again there are many non-professional actors that Pasolini used in order to instill Arabian Nights with the same earthy, proletarian spirit The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales conveyed as well.
Arabian Nights is comprised of simple but likable stories – a man falls in love with a beautiful slave who chooses him to be her master, but makes a terrible mistake and loses her. He embarks on a treacherous journey, hoping to find his loved one, where he meets other travelers with fascinating stories. One of the better ones they share with him is about a powerful demon and a young man who is asked to choose between his life and that of his lover.
Despite the fact that a lot of the stories are about kings, demons and slaves, Arabian Nights remains a distinctively adult film. In fact, there are more than a few scenes of graphic violence in it that are likely to shock some viewers. Of course, sex still has a prominent role, though it is quite surprising to see that Pasolini intentionally avoided the homosexual tales from 1001 Arabian Nights for the final cut of his film.
Technically, Arabian Nights certainly looks a bit rough; many of the special effects in it are rather cheap-looking (the scene where the demon and his prisoner fly over the desert is a prime example). Yet, in a lot of ways this raw and unpolished look is precisely what makes Arabian Nights special, a film with a style of its own. Add to the mix legendary composer Ennio Morricone's atmospheric soundtrack, and it is practically impossible to find other similarly-themed films that have been able to successfully replicate the type of atmosphere Pasolini created in Arabian Nights.
Finally, I wish to spare a few words on the mythical 155-minute version of the film, which was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974, when Pasolini was awarded the Grand Prize of the Jury. To the best of my knowledge - and I am certainly not an authority on the subject, so anyone who is and has relevant information is more than welcome to contact me – this specific version has not been commercially distributed in major markets. As far as I know, the current 130-minute cut of Arabian Nights has always been what United Artists, BFI (United Kingdom), Eagle Pictures (Italy) and Carlotta (France) had in their catalogs.
Trilogy of Life Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted 1080p transfers, the three films in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life arrive on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The film has a stable organic look. Brightness levels have been toned down and contrast is a lot more consistent throughout the entire film. Close-ups convey better depth, while during the darker sequences clarity is dramatically improved. One of the strongest advantages this release has over the old BFI release is the improved compression. Grain is unquestionably better resolved and more evenly distributed. On the BFI release there are traces of light filtering and electronic noise, as well as compression artifacts. The two releases also have vastly different color-schemes. Here the reds and browns are more prominent while the blacks are better saturated. Lastly, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. All in all, currently Criterion's release of The Decameron is the best home video release on the market.
The Canterbury Tales
Depth and detail are again superior to those observed on the BFI release. Clarity is also improved. The color-scheme again favors stronger reds and browns, though here they are much closer to the reds and browns from the BFI release. Compression is again vastly superior. This becomes quite obvious during the final third of the film, and especially the footage from Hell. Healthy grain is exposed and easy to see. Additionally, there are no traces of excessive filtering or sharpening corrections. Specks and debris have been removed as best as possible, but there are a few scenes where tiny vertical lines are present (see screencapture #20). I assume that current digital tools could not fully remove them without jeopardizing the integrity of the image. To sum it all up, like The Decameron, The Canterbury Tales also has a much more pleasing and stable organic look.
In my opinion, the most dramatic improvements in image quality are in Arabian Nights. Virtually all of the panoramic shots from the desert convey very pleasing depth. The overall stronger color reproduction also makes a big difference, as the richer and better saturated colors are clearly better balanced than those observed on the BFI release. Again, brightness levels appear to have been toned down. Compression is also superior. Some extremely light noise occasionally tries to creep in but it is never distracting. Lastly, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review.
(Note: All three discs are Region-A "locked". Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access their content).
Trilogy of Life Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Each of the three films in the Trilogy of Life comes with a standard Italian LPCM 1.0 track. The Canterbury Tales also comes with an English Dolby Digital 1.0 track approved by Pier Paolo Pasolini. Optional English subtitles are included for each film.
The three lossless Italian tracks are fairly similar. Clarity is very good but dynamic movement is very limited. Obviously, where dubbing was done it is also easy to hear occasional dynamic fluctuations. What is important to note that excluding the source limitations, there are no serious technical issues to report in this review (pops, cracks, excessive hiss, dropouts, distortions). The English translation is very good.
Trilogy of Life Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Canterbury Tales
Trilogy of Life Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Criterion's upcoming release of Pier Paolo Pasolini's Trilogy of Life is extremely easy to recommend. All three films look significantly better than they do on the Region-B releases the British Film Institute produced a few years ago. More importantly, however, there is a wealth of supplemental features, some brand new, that add extra value. The interview with Ennio Morricone and Tony Rayn's visual essay are particularly good. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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