Pier Paolo Pasolini‘s adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, wedged between The Decameron and Arabian Nights in his “Trilogy of Life”, is a ribald second entry. Pilgrims headed for Canterbury are ordered to each tell a story in order to make the long trip more bearable, beginning a descent into eight tales of sex, greed and violence, laid out with plenty of Mel Brooks-style potty humor. Pasolini’s screenplay apparently strays from the source material at several points–this writer has never had the pleasure of reading it–but these lewd vignettes are mostly carried by the shambling narrative mode, always setting up a new story with nary an introduction, inter-title or signifier and ending with a typically crude punchline. The Canterbury Tales isn’t usually regarded as the strongest film in the trilogy (and the occasionally dreadful post-dubbing of the actors is a frequently cited complaint), but it’s a shame its riotous humor and beauty isn’t more appreciated. Pasolini’s raunchy wit and understated compositions are epitomized in these unruly episodes.
The video above, uploaded by The Criterion Collection, is a clip from the third tale. Pasolini’s slapstick-style humor in the film is especially evident in this scene.
If you’re in Toronto, be sure to catch The Canterbury Tales at the Bell Lightbox theater as part of the Pier Paolo Pasolini: The Poet of Contamination retrospective.