Based on Geoffrey Chaucher’s influential Middle English epic, The Canterbury Tales was Pasolini’s ecstatic and flamboyantly crafted second chapter – positioned between The Decameron and Arabian Nights – in his episodic, iconoclastic and spectacularly boundary-pushing Trilogy of Life. It wasn’t just more luscious and hyperbolic than its predecessor, but also more exultantly unhinged – being unabashedly peppered with graphic carnality and scatological humour – and expressed an even darker world-view. However, while it did manifest rebellious political overtones – in its lashing indictment of organized religion with its unfettered bigotry and hypocrisy; odious depictions of feudal lords and wealthy profit-mongers with their unbridled greed and pomposity; and continued affront towards bourgeois morality – it was, arguably, not as consistently and radically political as the trilogy’s masterful opening salvo. The classic’s frame story was retained here wherein eight tales are narrated by traveling pilgrims and chronicled by a smirking Chaucer (played by Pasolini) – a hideous and obnoxious elderly merchant who becomes blind upon marrying a bored, much younger woman (Josephine Chaplin) who’s aroused by a secret admirer; the violence with which the church punishes sodomy, and the befriending of the devil by a ruthless civil servant; a Chaplin-esque scoundrel (Ninetto Davoli) who lives dangerously and dies nonchalantly by offending everyone; the wooing of an unfulfilled married woman by two young lotharios; an insatiable middle-aged woman who seduces a young academic; two guileless students who exact sweet, salacious revenge against a sly middle-aged miller; three crass buddies who’re tricked by a world-weary old man into becoming murderous beasts; an avaricious monk who gets a glimpse of hell. The last tale, in fact, portrayed arguably the most gleefully grotesque, hilariously offensive and uninhibitedly outrageous cinematic rendition of hell.
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Religious Satire/Anthology Film