I RACCONTI DI CANTERBURY (THE CANTERBURY TALES)
UK/Italy / 1972 / 112 min / English / Drama/Comedy
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Cast: Ninetto Davoli, Tom Baker, Pier Paolo Pasolini
The Skinny: Medieval Pansexual Romp
Plato Score: C-
If Geoffrey Chaucer were to come back from the grave and see what infamous bad boy director Pasolini did to his beloved medieval poem, he might very well implode.
The Canterbury Tales is one of the earliest texts in English literature following numerous characters through 24 tales. Pasolini got his hands on 8 of these tales and strung them together into a ribald cinematic free-for-all that is both insane and exhausting.
The second installment of his ‘Trilogy of Life’ (along with The Decameron and Arabian Nights), The Canterbury Tales foregrounds sex, nudity, bawdiness along with a good wallop of slapstick and fart jokes—so much so that it was banned in many countries.
Openly-gay director Pasolini took many liberties with Chaucer’s stories and even reworked some entirely—most notable is “The Friar’s Tale” whereby gay men are caught having sex. Those that can’t bribe their way out are persecuted in a public by being burned alive. Contrast the dark tone of that with “The Cook’s Tale” where a Chaplin-esque character get into mildly amusing trouble, has a threesome and is eventually locked up in public stocks.
Yet one can’t help but feel that the film’s Golden Bear win at the Berlin Film Festival is not so much for its moral interpretation of Chaucer’s magnum opus and more due to its audacious use of sex, religion and nudity—those looking for bushy, 1970s full frontals and buttocks will not be disappointed. The last scene of the devil pooping out priests in hellish glory pretty much sums up everything in a nutshell. (And yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds.)
Despite the film’s questionable sexism and dubbing so bad it rivals Chinese Kung Fu films, The Canterbury Tales remains to this day the only film version of Chaucer’s work. And while not as refined as some of Pasolini’s other work, it still has his bold, brash stamp of confronting dogma and pushing boundaries all over it.