Pier Paolo Pasolini’s trilogy of films known as the Trilogy of Life were cutting edge at their time of release, mostly for the use of extreme nudity that had not been shown in mainstream narrative cinema previously. Even before the trilogy was completed there were a number of copycat films, and the titillating use of nudity in classic literature adaptations became known as “Decamerotic” films. It is important to note the difference between these copycat films and Pasolini’s trilogy, however, which glorifies the innocence of sexuality rather than the exploitation of it.
Each of the three films are based on three medieval texts from different countries, with the first groundbreaking film based on Giovanni Boccacio’s The Decameron. All also have a freewheeling way of storytelling, jumping from story to story within a loose framing device. The text includes stories which are told in when a group of men flee plague-ridden
and must tell ten tales a day for ten days. Pasolini removes the framing device and focuses on only the more sexual of the stories within the story. There is a man pretending to be mute in order to get work in a convent, as well as the story of a wife tricking her husband so she can cheat on him right in front of his face. These are the more explicit of the many stories within The Decameron, but not nearly as graphic as the series would advance after the success of this first film. Florence
The Canterbury Tales was released in 1972, one year after the successful first film in the trilogy. This time we are in
within the world of Geoffrey Chaucer’s text, which includes a great deal morbidity and death than The Decameron. The stories still jump around, with the framing device of Pasolini playing Chaucer and telling us the various tales, often sexual in nature. Pushing the boundaries of nudity and sexual nature in a mainstream artistic manner, The Canterbury Tales is a significant piece of film history, though it is often considered the weakest of the trilogy. There are many moments of humorous titillation, not to mention a marvelously absurd fantasy sequence which is bold even by today’s standards. England
The final film in Pasolini’s trilogy has the clearest storyline, though there are still many stories within stories and a loose structure to hold it all together. This time we are in the Orient with an adaptation of The Thousand and One Nights, released as Arabian Nights. The film begins with a love story between a slave and a young poor man, and once he loses her the story veers away. We return to these two characters intermittingly and the film eventually closes with their reunion. In-between there are the usual stories within stories, including some longer and some shorter ones. Once again there is an increase in the explicitness of the sexuality, though it is more the progression of filmmaking which makes this such a strong film. Pasolini seems to have learned from the previous films, making the best last. Each of the films are also notable for the spectacular soundtrack done by Ennio Morricone.
The three-disc Blu-ray release comes with a number of remarkable special features on the discs, not to mention a 64-page booklet with essays, photos and an excerpt from a press conference with Pasolini. All three films have also been digitally restored in high definition. The special features on the discs include new interviews, visual essays by film scholars Patrick Rumble and Tony Rayns and several documentaries about various aspects of the bold productions.