This is the second in Pasolini's series of setting classic bawdy tales to film
In this case, he selected eight of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, including the infamous miller's tale and the incident with the red hot poker kiss
The tales revolve around a group of pilgrims who are journeying to the shrine of Saint Thomas a Becket of Canterbury
The trip is so boring that they begin telling each other stories that soon get obscene, gory and very sexy
Pasolini adds another motif to his visualization by placing Chaucer himself into the movie, periodically cutting to him writing at his desk...Pasolini inserts pleasure and amusement at social customs, especially marriage
Some of the stories are funny, others are deadly serious
The scene where a young man is burned for making love to another of his own sex, for example, is chilling...In fact, Pasolini's using non professional actors, is more in keeping with the tone of the original than the usual romanticized versions...
This movie is second of Pasolini's so called 'Trilogy of Love' (Il Decameron, I Racconti di Canterbury, Il fiore di mille e una notte; 1970-1974). All these movies are quite specific, there are said not to be that provocative or intriguing. They are greatly influenced by the fact that while directing them Pasolini was contented because of his intimate relationship with the 'innocent barbarian', actor Ninetto Davoli. It is also said that in 'Trilogy of Love' Pasolini became resigned to the present time world by escaping to the past. However I don't think it's true. In these movies, Pasolini introduces to the audience an incorrupt world where people don't care about 'material aspects of life', they try to live at the full stretch, they seek love and, of course, sex and they do not respect 'the repressive limits imposed by religious and bourgeois morality' (Gino Moliterno). This is probably why Pasolini later declared that these three films were most ideological of his career (in his famous and long interview with Massimo Fini). I suppose Pasolini tried to confront such 'primitive' world with the world he had lived in and which he had hated so much (this confrontation is present all the time, especially by the contrast between the love and the death, by the contrast between the first tales, in which the human naked body dominates, and the last two tales in which pursuit of money causes death and perdition. Because of such end it is also suggested that I Racconti di Canterbury are very close to Pasolini's disillusioned last movie, Saló).It is common to hear that Chaucer must have rolled over in his grave after this movie was released. But if you try to understand The Canterbury Tales in the context of Chaucer's attitude towards love in his (other) literary works, you will probably find that Chaucer would resemble to Pasolini alias Mr Chaucer ends the film with writing 'Here end the Canterbury Tales, told for the mere pleasure of their telling, Amen'.
This is a remarkable film. One usually remembers Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as difficult, religious old English burden of school, but Pasolini was smart enough to concentrate on the humor, which travels from rude slapstick (hot iron poker shoved up the villain's behind) to merciless show of greed and it's consequences. Only after the film did I take a fresh look at Canterbury Tales and lo! it was there all along... but it required Pasolini to lay it are, for everyone to see.
When I was going to see "Canterbury Tales", I knew Pasolini was infamous director who made crazy films, that weren't for everyone's taste.When I saw it. It was one of those movie experiences that change the way you see films. It's not that I loved this film, I don't see how I can use word "love" here. It's just that from the beginning to the end I couldn't believe my eyes. Sequence after sequence, the movie became one of the most original films I ever seen in my life. Wife having sex standing on her husband's shoulders, woman farting in the face of the young boy who loves her, drunken man, p***ing on dining people, giant ass, that defecates with demons, it's shocking, yes, but it's not the point. The point is,we believe every single thing we see on the screen. Of course, it's because Pasolini uses natural lightning, unprofessional actors, and partly because when there is fucking on the screen, it's not simulation, it's real f**king (what other film can be classified as "porn", and also have Oscar-winning costume designer in its credits?). But it's not the reason. I always admired Pasolini, because he was one of those people, who make others respect them, who have remained hip even twenty years after they are dead. And being this incredibly fascinating person, he could put part of the magic that made him the person he was into his movies.
If you watched this movie in order to get a crib of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, you'd be out of luck, and missing the point. Chaucer's underlying anti-clerical and pro-love-and-life philosophy may be there, but the substance is very different. Pasolini's 14th century England lives and dresses more like 16th Century Italy.The Miller's Tale is much grimmer when brought to the screen than Chaucer would have intended. "And Nicholas is branded on the bum, And God bring all of us to Kingdom Come" in Coghill's cheerful popular translation, becomes something more like the execution of Edward II. Not just on, but in. And the execution of a sodomite too poor to bribe his way off the griddle seems drawn out just to make a bad joke about the seller of "griddle cakes" (frittelli) plying his trade in the crowd.He is one of the more than fair share of handsome young men in the film, and there's more than a fair share of closeups of their middle regions, front and back, in tight-fitting breeches (not that I'm complaining).One feature that is almost entirely absent is any sense of pilgrimage. The storytellers appear only at the beginning and end of the tale. Instead we cut back to Chaucer himself (Pasolini himself, and very handsome he is too), writing the tales at a snail's pace. There are also long (by 2006 standards) tracking shots over indifferent scenery. Yet other scenes jump disconcertingly, the start of one tale used to mark the end of the previous one.
This, even though it lacks a bit the wit and spirit of IL DECAMERON, which was funnier, it still manages to satisfy as you reach the end. Pasolini's perverted humor as well as some of his usual actors are here. There's full nudity, both male and female. Maybe here the erotic element is more intense so its less humorous, I am not sure. I suppose it will satisfy those who like Pasolini's humour like, say, IL DECAMERON. The copy I saw had awful dubbing - Italian language- maybe it's bad sychronisation, or something else... As far as I am concerned it is worth it alone for this special, absurd, perverted, surrealistic last scene, taking place in hell. It rulez! Some others scenes are awesome too! And of course there'e Pasolini evident dislike of church/religious dogmas.If you're not easily offended and like old films, specially European ones, give it a try, IL DECAMERON as well.
I'm rather bemused by some of the negative comments above. This film - in my humble opinion - is one of the greatest ever made, and my personal favourite of all P.P. Pasolini's. Pasolini brings life to Chaucer in a way my poor teachers at school could never have dared. In the film, Pasolini casts himself as Chaucer; daydreaming, laughing at his own tales, being berated by his wife. And therein lies the clue to this film. It's not just an interpretation of the Canterbury Tales, it's a portrayal of its author. For all claims of "smut" (see above), I can honestly say that your imagination must be pretty dull not to laugh at certain earthy, dream-like scenes. Absolutely non of the scenes in this movie can be branded as bad-taste. They're absolutely accurate. Pasolini showed deep understanding of the English psyche throughout; the examples are too numerous to mention. If you're looking for an explanation of The Canterbury Tales, you won't find it in this film. But if you're looking for how to go about interpreting it for yourself, you'll find no better. This movie is one that I will keep, and you can bet my kids are going to see it when they get a little older too.
It is the second part of Pasolini's "trilogy of life" and IMHO,the weakest :part of the reason can be found in the fact that it's merely more of the same ;after" Il decameron' the sensation of surprise has disappeared.Bawdiness,bawdiness and bawdiness,and a good dose of scatology.Besides,the stories,adapted from Chaucer are less interesting than in "IL decameron" ;the only good really good segment,as far the script is concerned ,is the one with the students and the miller's family:the mistaken identities are hilarious.But what remains is never really exciting.The scene in which a gay is literally "fried " is downright disturbing,coming from a director like Pasolini;the sequence is treated seriously ,almost without humor-unless the donuts seller counts-.No one can argue the splendor of the cinematography;most of the times,it looks like pictures at an exhibition:the moist misty landscapes -particularly in the students' sequence- sharply contrasts with the mediterranean overcome by the heat ones in "il decameron";and the score,which includes old English traditionals is first-rate too.Ninetto Davoli,Pasolini's favorite actor,does his usual (almost silent) stint,in the grand tradition of Charlie Chaplin,which almost seems supernatural in this context;One should add that Josephine Chaplin is also part of the cast:some kind of double tribute.The script is the Achille's heel of the movie."Il fiore della mille e una notte" will set the record straight and redeem Pasolini,for it's without a doubt the peak of the trilogy of life,with its numerous stories " à tiroirs".
We know where we are in England with the songs and music, the looks of these people, the way they dress, the way they look, the faces they make and the faces they have, their violent games and the first jest, and the first joke, sets the action in a fighting ring with a red lady dressed in so much crimson sanguine velvet that she looks like a cardinal, the bird of course. And the hats, Lord, or the way they dress their hairs. Holbein, Rembrandt and the Flemish school, and yet their inns cum nunneries cum brothels cum stables and a lot of welcoming remarks are real enclosed farcical and at times lethal bordellos. Most festivities take place in big halls. That's England isn't it, cold and rainy, uncertain and wet, at least as for the climate and the weather. The garden of Eden with Adam and Eve and Pan fingering his pipe is not bad at all, looking like a Stonehenge of well trimmed bush pillars. The most intriguing sequence is that of the homosexuals who are tricked into sex by some agents of the church, but only to be proposed a choice: pay or burn on the griddle. One is rich and goes through. The other is poor and burns. The scene is amplified by the dais and the canopies all around the quadrangle where it happens, by the velvet of the dresses and by the silence, by the kids watching the show, the green lawn of this quadrangle surrounded by Norman or Tudor architecture, the bringing of the faggots by half nude teens before the bringing in of the gay yelling faggot, his being tied on the griddle, the lateness of the priest and his cross and the silence again when the flames finally engulf the man. And all is seen through the eyes of a bun-vendor who does not say a word and roams behind everyone. And it is all calculated by the local bishop with the help of a consenting youth who plays the bait. And the mute witness is later revealed to be the devil enjoying the show set up for him by the good old Christian men and women. And there we start descending into a Flemish vision of Hell. And Hell is on earth with Charlie Chaplin arriving in the picture, accompanied by the traditional music of his mute films on a pipe, the cops, the cheating at the soup distribution, the cane and the bowler hat, the bored bride in a wedding, the monstrous father of the wimp bridegroom that gets creamed with the wedding cake, the strict family but the cheating mother who feeds bad Charlie in the back of the father, even a job shining, or should I say, polishing eggs, playing dice with what Dickens would have called street Arabs, and Shakespeare scoundrels I guess. And he introduces us in his dream of a bawdy paradise on earth, interrupted by two cops who arrest him and put him in a pillory. Add to that the flood. And the red widow strutting across this mess. In England religion has been turned into a business, a sham, a parody, a farce, a social carnival in which a windmill grinds corn without turning its wings, but it does not matter since the miller is a thief. But Chaucer in the film leads us to another inn-brothel of England. And an angel will take you to Hell and you better like devils and Satan and you will discover where all the friars are kept in Hell by Satan himself. You'll drown in a real colic of friars all over the world directly from under the tail of His Lord Satan. Amen for sure.Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine, University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne & University Versailles Saint Quentin en Yvelines
As far as where this one sits on the film map, it's somewhere between Belle de Jour and Tinto Brass's Caligula.The most important credit Pasolini's setting of the Canterbury Tales deserves is for its dismissal of the usual on-screen morality. Such candor seems essential to the nature of such a narrative (being much more appreciated than the stifled decadence of Keir Dullea's Marquis de Sade or the early Warhol/Morrissey efforts). This is most effective because the film also depicts the baseness and depravity of the late Middle Ages. Everyone's fornicating or trying to fornicate everyone else, with lots of potty humor thrown in just to make sure that it wouldn't be taken too seriously as a foray into art-house pretensions.On all other counts, it's overblown and a bit sluggish, with an especially disappointing outcome au montage son. And non-professional actors are much less effective in adding a dimension of realism than they are in inducing a sense of self-mockery. The imagery is shamelessly ribald although not extreme, and the storyline is far from seamless. Far from Pasolini's best, although perhaps a good preparation for the far more intense Salo.
I recently rented "Canterbury Tales" because I started reading the Chaucer book and also because I liked Pasolini´s final film "Salo". However, I was very much disappointed with the results. To be sure, the film begins strongly as the first tale presented (about a young woman cheating on her elderly, temporarily blind husband) has an enjoyable sense of playfulness and brilliant camera work (especially the ambiguous, naturalistic shots of sloppy facial expressions, which are usually always a strong point for Pasolini). Even the 2 tales that followed had their merits. The story of the tax collectors played like an interesting poetic riddle and the tale of the Charlie Chaplin style "reveler" was fun in how it combined Chaplinesque innocence with things like gambling and group sex. However, after this, my appreciation of the film soon went down as the stories that followed lacked virtually anything that could be called likable. It was mostly just wooden, superficial characters hysterically shouting at each other so cartoonishly that even a seven year old would complain about bad acting while watching it and lots of cheap bodily function jokes that were done better hundreds of times elsewhere. And it also has plenty of completely unerotic sex scenes that belong in 70s Italian gross out soft porn rather than in any movie that´s meant to be taken seriously. And the infamous hell scene at the end feels like bad children´s television (e.g. "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians") with its cheap looking paper costumes and sloppy claymation. While scholars or people who lived in Italy during the 60s and 70s could probably spot intellectual criticisms of society´s hypocrisy in the movie, they really do not save it much - especially not from completely butchering the intelligence, humanity and depth of Chaucer´s original work. In any case, "Canterbury Tales" shows that no matter how artistic you make your visuals, if your movie lacks plot and characterization, they will be badly missed.